WALTHAM — Anything Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, or Kelly Olynyk said in their efforts to convince Al Horford to sign with Boston was just background noise.
The three Celtics simply taking the time to meet with the nine-year veteran in Atlanta already spoke volumes.
“In the middle of the summer, to go into free agent meetings, when that’s the GM’s and the coach’s job to do, the fact that they were there spoke highly of how they felt about the organization and how committed they are to the team,” Horford said Friday as he was introduced at the team’s practice facility.
“They told me this was a great place, they really enjoy it here. They kept talking about how much they love the fan base and they just said they’d be excited for me to be a part of the team.”
Horford, a 6-foot-10-inch forward and four-time All-Star, signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston last Saturday. The paperwork is pending league approval, but Horford was nonetheless introduced Friday and presented with a No. 42 jersey.
Flanked by Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens, with team owner Wyc Grousbeck to Ainge’s right, Horford said it was a very difficult decision to leave Atlanta but was excited for the opportunity to play in Boston.
“The biggest thing for me is to come in and [do] whatever Coach wants me to do, anything that has to do with the team,” Horford said. “Being a presence on the defensive end, I know that’s important to me, I have to establish that. And then offensively, just making sure that we’re making the game easier for each other, just making sure that I’m helping all of our guys in any way that I can, not only for them to be better individually, but to feel like I’ll help us be better as a group.
“I’m just looking forward to getting to work with those guys every day and start building those relationships and really get acclimated to this new system for me.”
Drafted third overall in 2007, the 30-year-old Horford reached the playoffs each of his nine seasons with the Hawks. He is averaging 14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in his career. He added a 3-point shot to his arsenal last season and shot 34.4 percent from beyond the arc.
“[He] is a person that constantly enhances his teammates on the floor and the No. 1 thing that his career has been defined by is winning,” Stevens said. “And for us to have an opportunity here with a person who has achieved all that he’s achieved, who has not only the ability to help his team on the court with everything that he does well, but also in the ability to lead what is a still fairly young team in the way that you prepare and the way that you carry yourself and everything else. I don’t think there is a better example out there for our players, so we’re thrilled.”
Both Ainge and Grousbeck said Horford’s play reminds them of past Celtics greats.
“He plays with a passion that is contagious to his teammates,” Ainge said. “He’s a player who can fit with all sorts of different types of players. He can play outside, he can play inside, on both ends of the court.
“But he is a player that, watching him play against us in the playoffs this year, flying around and contesting shots and bringing energy and passion, I think he is a player that our fans will fall in love with and his teammates will fall in love with and our coach will fall in love with him, as well.”
“He believes in Celtic pride and we believe in him,” Grousbeck said.
Horford said he was encouraged by what he saw from the Celtics during the Hawks’ first-round playoff series with Boston this past season.
“A lot of young, hard-working, talented players,” he said. “And it’s just, playing in that series, I saw the passion that they played with and how much better they got as a team throughout the season. And it’s something that excites me, to be a part of it.”
The playoff atmosphere at TD Garden also aided Horford’s decision.
“I always admired the Celtics from afar,” Horford said. “Just how everything gets carried over here and how committed the team and the city is to winning and doing things the right way.
“It’s a great organization. There’s a lot of history here. I feel like everyone around the league respects it, we acknowledge it, and that’s a big part of the reason why I chose to come here.”