Al Horford first joined the Boston Celtics as a 30-year-old in 2016. By that point, the veteran big man already had nine NBA seasons under his belt with the Atlanta Hawks.
Horford's size, talent, and unquestioned leadership made an immediate impact on a Celtics team that had yet to make it past the first round of the NBA playoffs under then-head coach Brad Stevens. In two of Horford's three seasons in Boston from 2016-19, the C's made it to the Eastern Conference Finals twice and the semifinals once.
The Dominican Republic native's first Celtics stint ended unceremoniously as Boston fell in the semifinals to the Milwaukee Bucks. He then went on to sign with the rival Philadelphia 76ers as an unrestricted free agent that summer.
After a less-than-stellar season in Philly, followed by a rebuilding year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Horford is back where he belongs. Stevens, who replaced Danny Ainge as Celtics president of basketball operations, acquired the 35-year-old from OKC in a deal that involved point guard Kemba Walker.
"It was hard to imagine, but I'm very happy it worked out and that I'm back here," Horford said during Celtics media day.
For his C's teammates, the feeling is mutual.
"I'm extremely happy that Al's back," said Celtics star Jayson Tatum. "I love everything about Al. How he plays the game, how he goes about his duties on a day-to-day basis. He's a true professional. I'm sure everyone's going to say the same thing about him. He's just a great teammate and a great person to be around."
Robert Williams was a rookie in 2018-19, which happened to be Horford's final season of his first stint with Boston. The 24-year-old raved about the impact Horford had on him as a young big man learning the ropes in the NBA.
"Al's a big influence on a lot of players and he doesn't even know it," Williams said. "Al, he's not the type that he's going to speak up a lot, but leading by example he's one of the best at it on and off the court."
Horford's veteran leadership speaks for itself, but you wouldn't know he's getting up there in age just by watching him on the court. The 6-foot-9 center has looked shockingly spry so far this season, averaging 14.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks through his first two games back in Celtics green. He notched 11 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in his season debut vs. the Toronto Raptors and followed that up with 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in Boston's win over the Houston Rockets.
With an even blend of familiar faces and intriguing new talent surrounding him in the locker room, Horford is enthusiastic about what lies ahead.
"When I saw kind of how Brad put together this team it just really got me excited," he said. "Like, I'm really excited about it, about the potential we have and the things that we can do as a group."
As the new-look C's set their sights on the top of the East, Horford's veteran presence will be at the center of it all.