What if I told you ... that a legacy goes far beyond what an athlete does on the court? That as he strives to win the ring that consumes the desire of each and every NBA player, he also wants to make his home country and his current city proud as a role model, no matter what Charles Barkley might think about that.
What if I told you that player is Al Horford, the Atlanta Hawks center and now four-time NBA All-Star who embodies the hopes and dreams of a town that has only celebrated a championship once in its history, a World Series title obtained by the Atlanta Braves in 1995.
The Hawks have never been to the NBA Finals since they moved from St. Louis in 1961, but Horford and his teammates have made it their mission to change that in 2016.
The Dominican sports icon recently sat down with ESPN One Nación to reflect on his life and ambitions both on and off the court.
Which one is your favorite city: your hometown of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic; where you attended high school in Grand Ledge, Michigan; college town of Gainesville, Florida or Atlanta?
Oh, my. Well, let's see ... Each and every one of those cities possess that emotional value for me, but I would have to say Atlanta is where I have been the longest in my life until now and where I achieved my dream (of playing in the NBA).
If you could go back in time and play in any other era of the NBA, which one would it have been?
Wow ... If I could play in any other era, I would have to say that I would have liked to play in the 1980s, because it was a special time in the league with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Dr. J and those Detroit teams of the 80s with Isiah Thomas. I believe that's when basketball truly started to take off as a sport.
What would you have done for a living if you hadn't become a professional basketball player?
To be honest with you, I would have probably played volleyball and aimed for a volleyball scholarship in an American college. I like that sport and I used to play it a lot as a kid in Santo Domingo. After that, what probably would have happened is that I would have played college volleyball and eventually do what you are doing right now, journalism, since I majored in communications.
What's the best advice your father, Tito Horford, has ever given you?
Basketball-wise, to stay one more year in college. We had one our first national championship at the University of Florida after my sophomore year and I could have gone into the draft, but my dad suggested I should stay in school and polish my game a bit more. My teammates were also going through a similar situation and they wanted me to stay because they wanted to repeat (as national champions), so we stayed. Besides, I saw the results because I had an immediate impact once I got to Atlanta as a pro.
Personally, his best advice was to remain humble, remember where you came from and the people who truly love you no matter how far you get in life. I have always tried to keep that in mind.
Do you have any pregame or postgame superstitions?
Not me, personally, I'm not superstitious. But (Hawks backup point guard) Dennis Schroder does. He always puts on the same song and follows the same exact routine. He always has to stand in front of a mirror before the game and brush/grease his hair and put on some cologne. That is a constant thing after the team meeting, before we leave for the game. It's very funny, but he's very focused on that and there is no way you can get him to stop doing that.
What are you most afraid of?
Snakes. I saw one when I was like 7 years old in Santo Domingo, where we don't have venomous snakes, but back then I saw it and maybe it wasn't that big ... but to me it was huge. I was going to pick up the ball and it was just there, so ever since then I've been left traumatized (laughs). Snakes and I have a mutual respect for each other.
Your best memory as a basketball player?
Winning both national championships at Florida. My goal has always been to win championships and I haven't reached that level at the NBA yet, but the memories there are priceless and that has been the most special part of my career as a basketball player. There are lots of stories, and when we all get together, my (former teammates) tell me about things I didn't remember. One in particular was in 2006, when we beat Villanova and were about to play in the Final Four. Coach (Billy) Donovan told (Joakim) Noah and I before that game that it would be really special if both of us could stay in school and repeat as champions. Keep in mind that we hadn't even won our first title yet! So I will never forget that he told us that before it even happened. It was really special.
What about your worst memory?
Definitely the two pectoral injuries that ended my season prematurely.
There have been three cases like that in basketball history, and two of them are mine. Those were two very trying and difficult times in my career, but I also feel like they have made me stronger and better as a player.
(Horford tore the left pectoral muscle in his shoulder in 2012 and his right one in 2013. Both injuries forced him to miss extended time).
Which opponent has been your own personal nightmare?
Ben Wallace. That guy was really active, very smart to get rebounds and anticipated plays really well. He was a problem for me.
Yao Ming was also trouble. I had to guard him, so imagine me at 6-9, he was 7-6. That was just not fair at all. Whenever I saw him, I went like, "Oh, no." When I found out he was going to retire, I felt bad because of his foot issue. But at the same time, I was relieved not to have to face him again.
Nowadays, I would have to say a versatile player like Marc Gasol is my toughest challenge. He passes the ball well, knows how to post up and is really smart.
Ryan Anderson is also difficult, because he can shoot 3s and you just can't give him any space. He not only shoots from the outside, but he also can attack the basket pretty well and you have to be really focused in front of him.
What's your favorite music genre?
I like all types of music, but my favorite one is Reggae. My favorite song is "Redemption Song" by Bob Marley.
Who do you consider to be the best NBA player right now?
Well, I would have to say that right now, without taking the past into account and just his current level, it has to be Stephen Curry. He is doing it all. I had never seen a point guard play like he does. It is unbelievable, he truly is the kind of player you would pay to watch.
Complete this sentence: My biggest wish in life is:
To be known as a good person, leader and father. That people can say that I have influenced them in a positive way.
If you had to choose, what would you rather win: An NBA championship with the Atlanta Hawks or an Olympic medal with the Dominican Republic?
Wow, that's not easy because those are the two goals I aspire to. However, I truly, truly would have to say an NBA title.