Summer 2024

Al Horford believes his 'purpose in life is to please God' as Celtics eye return to NBA Finals

The NBA playoffs may wind up being rather nostalgic for Boston Celtics center Al Horford. He is facing the team that drafted him — the Atlanta Hawks — in the first round, and will likely meet another one of his former teams — the Philadelphia 76ers — in the second round if No. 2-seeded Boston advances. Horford has spent all but 28 games of his 16-year career with those three teams.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

The five-time All-Star contributed six points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two assists in the Celtics’ 112-99 victory in Game 1 on Saturday. Horford hit a 3-pointer with 3:00 left in the game to extend Boston’s lead to 15, and blocked a shot on the following Hawks possession to help secure the win.

“We just want to play Celtics basketball,” Horford said after the game. “Defend, rebound and move the ball and have fun.”

Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla praised Horford’s leadership in a postgame interview with NBC Sports Boston.

“Anytime he speaks, everybody listens because of his humility, his selflessness and his leadership. [He’s] always looking to make the right play,” Mazzulla said.

Horford averaged 12.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in the playoffs last season as the Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals, and he’s evolved into one of the best shooters in the league. He shot 44.6% from 3-point range during the 2022-23 regular season, which ranked second among qualified players. His 145 threes and 325 3-point attempts were career highs.

Horford has also evolved into a spiritual leader. When he was taken third overall out of the University of Florida by the Hawks in the 2007 NBA Draft, he did not have a relationship with God. During his time in the NBA, though, he came to know Christ and has made his faith the most important thing in his life.

While he was growing spiritually, Horford was not always comfortable talking about his faith. He said during an appearance on the Sports Spectrum Podcast last year that even though it took him some time to share his faith publicly, he wanted people to know about the ways God had changed his life.

“One of the things that I always felt was that I had to speak about it,” he said on the podcast. “I had to speak about my faith. I had to speak about all the wonders that God has done in my life and how much he has changed me. Because He has. And over the years, I’ve seen that change in me for the better.”

Originally from the Dominican Republic, Horford read the Bible in Spanish initially but said on the podcast he is now reading it in English as well so he can share the Gospel more effectively. He sees God’s blessings all over his life and makes sure to give thanks for them on a regular basis.

“He’s my Savior, but also, He’s given me so much,” Horford said on the podcast. “In every phase of my life, I see God’s hand. … Every day when I pray, I’m always giving thanks and giving Him the glory for so many things.”

As determined as Horford is to help get his team back to the Finals, he is even more determined to live in a way that glorifies God. Everything else comes after that.

“My whole purpose in life is to please God, to ensure I’m doing His will and that I’m living my life in that example,” he said in a 2021 interview with “Based on that, that’s how I go about my life and then the rest of everything will fall in place — whether it’s me being a basketball player, being the best father, the best husband and just trying to help anybody I can along the way.”

Game 2 will tip off from TD Garden at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday and will be broadcast on NBA TV. Game 3 is in Atlanta on Friday.

SS PODCAST: Celtics center Al Horford on family, his journey, being bold in his faith
Al Horford gives ‘honor and glory to the Lord’ after playoff career-high helps Celtics win
Philadelphia 76ers forward Al Horford says faith in God gives his life stability
Atlanta Hawks rookie AJ Griffin hits another OT game-winner, gives glory to God
SS PODCAST: NBA referee Scott Twardoski on prayer, being present, baptism