Al Horford shares perspective on LeBron James’ long career before Celtics-Lakers

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Al Horford shares perspective on LeBron James’ long career before Celtics-Lakers

Al Horford said he’s learned from superstars like LeBron James and Tom Brady as he attempts to reach 20 years playing at the highest level in the NBA.

Al Horford said he’s learned from superstars like LeBron James and Tom Brady as he attempts to reach 20 years playing at the highest level in the NBA.

BOSTON — Al Horford shares space with a select class of NBA players into his 17th season. Among players older than 37, only he and Chris Paul can claim to remotely resemble their prime form. P.J. Tucker, Taj Gibson and Jeff Green continued to impact their teams at points in deep reserve roles over the past year. Kyle Lowry played an outsized role in Miami before the team traded him in January. Garrett Temple and Wes Matthews also sit far down the benches in Toronto and Atlanta, approaching the finish line.

For Horford, perhaps Mike Conley, 36 this season, represents the most fitting comparison as a valuable starter for a winning Timberwolves team. Once massively impactful and among the most underrated players in their roles, they’ve taken back seats to the talent around them and focused on complementing them, staying available and defending as part of top-five units. Both players appear poised to chase the 40-year-old mark if they choose to, something Horford’s brother Jon indicated could be the case in 2022 and further cemented when Al signed a two-year extension with the Celtics one year later.

Above them all sits LeBron James — the oldest player in the league at 39, the lone representative from either the 2003 or 2004 draft and still producing at an All-NBA level. Only the wider sports window provides comparisons for him as he arrives in Boston to face the Celtics for a 20th consecutive season tonight. The allusions to his age almost never stop, but for good reason as everyone, including Horford, wondered years ago what drove that nearly unprecedented longevity. Horford, early last decade, also consulted Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo and James did, among other veteran icons.

“Having my eyes out. For many years, Brady, I was following what he did,” Horford said on Thursday. “Reading about it and seeing if something could benefit me and if it could go into some of the things that I want to do and go from there. Everybody kind of has their own way, but for me, it was keeping an open mind and looking at those examples, seeing how I could be better myself. With Tom, I was always impressed with his food regimen and how he went about it. Obviously, he takes it to a much bigger extreme than I would. I do like to eat a little bit of everything, but that discipline goes a long way and my first time here in Boston, I was able to pick some of those things up and follow them. Staying away from certain foods, especially on game day ... things that can give you a little edge.”

Brady played 22 NFL season and won the Super Bowl at 43, setting the standard alongside James for success two decades into an American sports career. His emphasis on diet and other holistic wellness approaches became loosely connected under the TB12 method umbrella, a business venture between Brady and trainer Alex Guerrero that started in Boston.

Horford said he visited the center and met Brady during his Hawks tenure to learn from the program, picking bits and pieces from it rather than embracing the entire philosophy, with certain aspects receiving criticism over the years from health professionals.

James took a similar approach, famously noting his over $1 million annual investment in his body, sleep and strict dietary approaches to not only reaching this far into his career, but also maintaining a certain level of play. That included adjusting his role, playing a more perimeter-oriented game, surrounding himself with other younger stars like Anthony Davis that can share the burden and taking nights off. Horford hasn’t played back-to-back games since returning to the Celtics in 2021.

Certain aspects of his all-star past remain there, his post game, heavy ball-handling duties and even long minutes at center ended into his second tenure with Boston. But defensively, his impact with the Celtics remains large and in certain games as dominant as ever. Boston will sometimes switch him onto guards, and in a blowout win over Indiana early last month, he posted 10 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and two blocks on 4-for-8 shooting. For all he’s accomplished, one of James’ feats has eluded him but appears within reach again. A championship.

“His work ethic, and I know we always talk about how smart he is. He continues to find ways to change his game, to impact the game and still be able to perform at a high level,” Horford said. “It’s something that you have to respect ... he lets his other guys do their thing around him and he’s not so much in control. I think before, he used to put a lot of pressure constantly at the offensive end and that’s obviously hard to do. He can do it at times when he needs to, but I feel like now, he’s letting these guys, Reaves, A.D., play and do their thing. It’s not easy to adjust to the game ... and have to find other ways to have success. You look at his career, he’s found a way to do that.”

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