For years, it has been a popular pastime for past Atlanta athletes to bash the fanbase they once played in front of, whether it’s on their way out or long after they left. According to a report that came out Saturday night, Al Horford just added himself to that list – albeit indirectly.
Horford’s father, Tito, who is a former pro basketball player himself, told WSB-TV’s Zach Klein that it was the fans, not the extra $1 million per year, that convinced the nine-year veteran to sign with the Boston Celtics instead of re-signing with Atlanta.
“There wasn’t as much motivation for him when he saw all the empty seats when they were winning,” the elder Horford said.
Well, if a fanbase can’t motivate you to get more than 3.5 rebounds per game against the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, I don’t know what will. It sure couldn’t be the $12 million he was paid last season.
Here’s the thing about Boston fans: they are better than Atlanta fans. I’ll admit it, because you’d be delusional to think otherwise. This city is capable of its moments of sports glory, but the second a transient’s former city comes to town, they’re throwing that Browns jersey or Giants jersey or, yes, Celtics jersey back on and going down to our stadiums to taunt Atlantans and act like they’re back in their hometown.
If there were 4 million diehard Atlanta fans who were born and raised here, it would be a different story. But none of this is what Horford said through his spokesman father. What he said was that Atlanta’s fanbase was making his game worse, and that’s one heck of a shot.
He could have said he was excited to play for the rabid Boston fans – which they have been since their team got good again. On the other hand, he chose to go after the fans, as Joe Johnson and Josh Smith did before him, and that’s how you get booed.
After nine great seasons in Atlanta – a city where he was revered by the fans – this is not the way it should have ended. Most Hawks fans were grateful for getting nine memorable years out of the first-round draft pick but understood he was going to get paid a lot of money by someone, and it wasn’t likely to be their team.
But yet again, a well-liked athlete has left the city on a bus that had most of Atlanta’s fans under it.
Photo: AP/Charles KrupaFollow @Sean_Breslin