Boston Celtics power forward Al Horford spoke with Sports Illustrated about his team's chances at this year’s NBA title, reacted to the comments Kyrie Irving made last week about exploring free agency, and even compared his Florida Gators teams from 2006 and 2007 to the current Zion Williamson-led Duke squad.
The 32-year-old is one of the new spokesman for Built with Chocolate Milk, a campaign seeking to spotlight the benefits of athletes drinking chocolate milk. In our conversation, he explained why he drinks it and how it affects his body.
Justin Barrasso: The New England Patriots just defeated the Los Angeles Rams for the Super Bowl and the Red Sox beat the Dodgers this past October for the World Series. Do you also have championship aspirations for the Celtics?
Al Horford: No question. That’s one of the reasons I decided to come to Boston—to contend and win a championship, especially with the history of the Celtics and what they stand for. There is a lot of work in front of us, but we have a great opportunity to do it. A championship is our goal.
JB:You have joined the new Built with Chocolate Milk advertising campaign, becoming its first-ever Hispanic team member. Another former Celtics power forward, Hall of Famer Kevin McHale, also served as a milk spokesperson. What is your connection to chocolate milk?
AH: Chocolate milk has everything I need in a drink: the carbs, the protein, and the electrolytes. It’s even backed by science, showing how you’re able to recover.
I can speak from experience, this is what I drink. And it’s actually really good for you. I’m the kind of guy always looking to eat the best that I can and I’ve worked with a few different nutritionists. For a number of years, I wasn’t consuming any dairy and suffered some injuries. At the time, I wasn’t taking advantage of a wholesome diet with dairy and cheese and milk. Once I started implementing the dairy, including chocolate milk, I started to feel the difference. Right now, in my 12th NBA season, this is the best I’ve ever felt.
JB: Taking a step back to assess this season for the Celtics, how do you feel about the team’s record? Can you understand why some Celtics fans have been disappointed with the team’s inconsistency, especially after last year’s remarkable regular season and playoff run to the conference finals?
AH: People are passionate here, they care, and I really like that. I’m also mindful of the fact that we’ve lost a handful of games we should have won, but we are in a good position.
This year was going to be a challenging year, incorporating everyone together, having everyone understand their role, and playing together the right way. We’re now starting to figure it out and put that all together.
My goal is for us to be playing at a high level in the playoffs. We need everyone committed, locked in, and healthy. If we do that, we’ll be very tough to beat.
JB: Kyrie Irving made headlines last week, commenting “I don’t owe anybody sh--” regarding his supposed obligation to remain in Boston when he hits free agency.
Two days later, Irving decimated the Oklahoma City Thunder to lead the Celtics to a home win on Sunday. Did Kyrie’s comments negatively affect the team, or was that not an issue?
AH: I know things are being said in the media, but we’re not talking with each other about the off-season or about what’s going to happen with the team next season. We’re enjoying this journey we’re in together. At the end of the day, that’s all we’re concerned with. We’re trying to compete for a championship.
JB: One of the highlights of your career occurred last season in game three of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against Philadelphia and gave the Celtics a commanding 3-0 series lead.
After the game, instead of focusing on your own accomplishments, you credited Brad Stevens for putting you in the best possible position to succeed. What makes him so dynamic in his role with the Celtics?
AH: Coach Stevens would be great for any team and we’re very lucky to have him here. He’s a very to-the-point coach. At a typical practice or game, he lets us know the game plan, how he wants to approach it, and he expects us to be very focused, doing things at a certain pace.
For me, I’ve really been able to learn a lot from him. His attention to detail separates him and makes him so special. He really studies the game to a point that he makes you want to study it. He makes you want to learn about other teams tendencies, and does so in a way that’s made me want to more than ever before.
JB: Looking at the college basketball scene, Duke is an early favorite to win the NCAA title and Zion Williamson appears to be the future of the game.
Could this year’s Duke team have competed with your Florida Gators, who won back-to-back NCAA championships in 2006 and 2007?
AH: This Duke team has talent that is unreal. We obviously know Zion is a special player, but he also looks like a great teammate, the type of guy you want to play with, wants to win, and makes you want to be around.
They have a really good chance of winning it all, but it’s a different generation going against my Florida team. We were a tough group, and we really knew how to play the game. Everybody was very clear about their roles, and when you have that, it helps tremendously.
JB: I know that you are advocating chocolate milk and highlighting all of its positives, but you played the Lakers recently.
If LeBron ever suddenly told you he was sore and asked for advice on whether he should drink chocolate milk to strengthen his muscles, what would you tell him?
AH: For LeBron? I’ll tell him not to drink it. But for everyone else, I want them drinking it. It’s proven to help with performance and recovery, and that’s the way to go.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.