When Celtics forward Al Horford was a child growing up in the Dominican Republic, his basketball options were often limited.
“Anything I could get to shoot, I would,” he said. “You would always find ways to do it, whether it’s like a rim from a car we’d put against a tree or something and nail it in. Whatever it took.”
Horford eventually started attending a basketball academy in Santo Domingo three days a week, but he understood most others did not have such a great option. The few outdoor courts that did exist were mostly tattered, and even as Horford emerged as a four-time NBA All-Star and basketball grew in popularity in his home country, the playing conditions remained poor.
“Anytime we’d go down we’d always see a lot of basketball courts in very bad shape,” Horford said. “No rims, no real basketballs, things like that.”
Now, Horford is hoping to help change that. In partnership with the Dominican bank, Banco Popular, he is starting a youth basketball initiative in his home country. It will begin this summer with the reconstruction of courts in Horford’s birth city, Puerto Plata, and La Romana, where his father Tito was raised. Over the next two years, at least three other courts will be reconstructed in the Dominican Republic.
Also, Horford will hold a total of eight basketball clinics and back-to-school camps in his home country over the next two summers. And he and Banco Popular will fund four scholarships that cover the costs for four Dominican students to attend high school in the US.
“Over the past 20 years basketball has grown a lot more in the Dominican, and there’s a hunger,” Horford said. “People want to learn it; they want to play it and just I feel like camps and things like that are just not enough. We need to keep doing more to promote the game and make it better.”
Horford recalled playing on a crumbling concrete court as a child, and the poor playing conditions kept most of the other children from joining him. Then that court was refurbished, and there would routinely be more than 50 children on the court at once. That, Horford said, is the kind of impact he would like to have now, too.
“I’m always grateful when I’m able to do anything for the community, because they really need it,” he said. “People are very happy and appreciative of it. It doesn’t matter if you do a little or a lot. I mean, they’re just very grateful we’re taking the time and trying to make a difference.”