Four years ago during the first round of the 2008 playoffs, a Boston Celtics fan sitting courtside yelled over to the Atlanta Hawks bench.
He was trying to get the attention of Al Horford, then a 21-year-old rookie who was dominating the paint in his first postseason run.
The Celtics fan didnt care that Horford was playing for the Hawks, the squad that would push the Cs to seven games in the series, or that the big man was averaging a double-double against his favorite team.
Horford was a professional athlete from the Dominican Republic. So was the fan.
His name was David Ortiz.
The Boston Red Sox designated hitter had found out Horford admired him growing up. Being a fan of the NBA himself, Ortiz attended several playoff games that season. It was the perfect opportunity for an introduction.
He was sitting by the bench so he said hello. He sent his information with one of our guys. We talked to each other and got together and weve been hanging out since, Horford told CSNNE.com following the Celtics Game 4 win over the Hawks. I was proud because hes won a couple World Series and is a Dominican hero back home. It was exciting for him to even know me and then come out here and watch us play. I know he obviously had to pull for the home team, but I know that he was happy for me and the way that I was playing, so it was an exciting time.
Horford and Ortiz have developed a close bond since that initial exchange. Now 25, Horford is a two-time All-Star and ranked in the top ten among all players in rebounds during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
He was sidelined in January with a torn left pectoral muscle and returned on Sunday for Game 4 of the Celtics-Hawks first round series. Injuries are one of the many aspects of being a professional athlete he discusses with Ortiz.
I think hes realized that he has to take care of his body a lot more, especially now that hes getting older, said Horford. So one of the things that he always emphasizes and talks to me about is taking care of your body and trying to eat well and things like that. I try to listen to him and I try to follow.
The two friends try to see one another when they travel to Atlanta and Boston for road games. When the schedule permits, Ortiz invites Horford over for a home-cooked meal. Over the years, Horford has had dinner with former Red Sox Jonathan Papelbon and Julio Lugo.
Its real laid back, usually Dominican food which we both like, Horford said. He doesnt cook it (laughs), but we both enjoy it. Usually we just hang out and watch another basketball game if its on TV.
On Saturday, Ortiz gave Horford tickets to the Red Sox game against the Baltimore Orioles. Horford attended with his wife. Fenway is such a fun ballpark, he smiled. It is a trip he looks forward to making whenever he gets the opportunity.
Davids like a big brother to me as far as just kind of making sure that Im doing good, he said. He always encourages me to work, stay focused, and thats the kind of relationship we have. Hes just a basketball fan. Thats really what it comes down to. He loves basketball and any chance I get, I like to watch him and the Red Sox play.
As for another testament to their friendship, what does Ortiz, who earned the moniker Big Papi for calling people Papi because he has trouble remembering names, call Horford?
Al, Horford said, pausing. I think he calls me Al. Im pretty sure.