He greeted the fans and hugged his former teammates. He rang the bell. Then he went onto the court to deliver one of his trademark performances and help his new team win.
Five-time All Star Al Horford made his debut appearance in the Philadelphia 76ers uniform Wednesday night as the home team rolled past the visiting Boston Celtics 107-93 in a much anticipated premiere of the new NBA season at the packed Wells Fargo Center.
Horford, 33, who spent the past three seasons wearing the Celtics green, and grew to be a fan favorite in Boston, was in the limelight as the old rivals squared off on opening night. During his stint with the 17-time champions, Horford was one of the cornerstones of the Celtics squad rebuilt in recent years into a title contender by Brad Stevens, and many Boston fans were sad to see him move to Philadelphia in the offseason.
Some of his teammates regret the decision, too.
“I loved playing with Al, he’s been a great player for a long time. We’ve been to some tough battles together, so I’m definitely going to miss him, but once the game starts we can’t be friends,” Celtics forward Jason Tatum told ESPN’s NBA Courtside before the game.
Tatum, 21, played alongside Horford two years ago when the Celtics defeated the Sixers 4-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinal.
Looking back at his time with the NBA’s storied franchise, Horford said it was a great experience.
“I really enjoyed myself up there, we did some great things,” he told NBA Courtside. His decision to move was quite unexpected though to many who hoped he would extend his stay at TD Garden.
“[I was] just looking at the opportunity ahead. Things didn’t work like we wanted to, so this is a big opportunity for me to step in and help this team win a championship,” said Horford when asked to explain his decision to leave Boston.
In July, he signed a four-year deal with the Sixers, and joined a talent-laden team with a core of exciting young players led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
The Dominican-born center was picked to usher in a new season by ringing the ceremonial Liberty Bell at center court moments before the tipoff. His selection apparently irked the Celtics faithful as they took to social media labeling the move as purposeful trolling.
On the court, Horford was his old self, racking up 16 points, three assists and two rebounds as the Sixers dominated the game after dropping the first quarter. An inspired Simmons paced the winners with 24 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, and Embiid notched a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
In a postgame interview, Horford said it was “definitely very weird [to play against the Celtics], but I’m happy we came out with the win and showed up for the city of Philly.”