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NBA AM: Horford Still Roots for Hawks

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When the Atlanta Hawks drafted Al Horford in the summer of 2007, the team hadn’t made the postseason for eight years. The last time they had even sniffed the playoffs, Lenny Wilkens was coaching Dikembe Mutombo. Just so everybody understands how long ago that was, Mutombo is 50 years old now. Wilkens turns 80 in October.

In drafting Horford ten years ago, the Hawks completely turned their competitive culture around. They made the postseason his first year in Atlanta, and they never missed the playoffs in his nine seasons there. Every year, the fans got a little more invested in the team, and by the 2014-2015 season, the year in which Horford’s Hawks won 60 games and made the Eastern Conference Finals, the City of Atlanta was more excited to watch Hawks basketball than it had ever been.

Horford had literally everything to do with that.

“Building a fandom is just something that comes with playing for a franchise,” Horford told Basketball Insiders. “But I can tell you that it’s fun coming out and having a packed house rooting for you, no matter where you play.”

He is, of course, referring to playing for Boston this year and battling in the playoffs for some team other than Atlanta. After spending the better part of a decade building rapport with Hawks fans, scraping and clawing his way up the Eastern Conference ranks and returning the city to basketball respectability, Horford has had to adjust to grinding through the playoffs with a different team for the first time in his professional career.

“It’s weird for sure,” he admitted. “After being with a team for so many years, it’s definitely weird to see that team playing on television and not being a part of it.”

Still, he admits, he can’t help but root for the Hawks, even if he’s entirely too wrapped up in his own series to watch those Hawks/Wizards games in their entirety.

“I always wish them well,” he said. “I honestly haven’t been able to watch much of their first few games. I’ve seen the scores, but I haven’t been able to watch. Still, you can’t help but still feel something about the team. I still have a good relationship with some of those guys and Coach Budenholzer, so I always wish them well.”

The Hawks currently are down 2-1 in their series with Washington, which means they still have an opportunity to win their series and face Horford and the Celtics in the second round. Horford didn’t want to think about what that might mean, but for now he’s able to enjoy the successes of his current and former teams.

“The playoffs are a great atmosphere in both places,” he said. “It was always a lot of fun playing in Atlanta because the fans always showed out. They were great there.”

Now, of course, they’re great in Boston, the most successful basketball city in the league’s history. That is where Horford likely will play out the rest of the career, and at some point, his time in Atlanta will be ancient history.

For now, though, the memories of what he accomplished there are still recent enough for us to care about what could happen in a Boston/Atlanta second-round series. Should that happen, there will be no waffling over where Horford’s allegiances lie.

He may be a Hawk for life in spirit, but he’s a Celtic now.

Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.

About Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.