When the Boston Celtics outlasted the Miami Heat in Game 7 on Sunday to become the NBA Eastern Conference champions, Al Horford dropped to his knees.
“YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!” the Celtics’ center repeated in a career-culminating moment, bent over as cameras gathered to capture the outburst. He slammed his right hand on the hardwood in celebration and was then greeted with cries of “OG” from Celtic teammates as he lifted himself up.
He had finally done it.
Horford then set two records on Thursday. The first was a dubious streak of 141 NBA playoff games played in his career without appearing in the Finals, which ended on Thursday when he and his Celtics teammates play against the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 in the best-of-seven series for the 2022 NBA Championship.
Second, Horford, born in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic —son of Tito Horford, the first Dominican to play in the NBA— is now the first Dominican to appear in the NBA Finals.
In Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday night, Horford went nuts, leading the Celtics to a 120-108 road win, finishing with 26 points, shooting 15 of 20 from the field —including six from three-point range— and six rebounds.
Facing him, among others, is Warriors forward Juan Toscano-Anderson, who is of Mexican descent and represents the Mexican national team internationally. Toscano-Anderson is being listed by some outlets as the first Mexican player to play in the NBA Finals. However, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, also of Mexican descent, played in the Finals last season.
In any event, these two men are few and far between with regards to NBA accomplishments from within the Latino community.
According to StatHead, prior to the beginning of the 2019-20 season, 4,374 people have ever played in the NBA, which dates back to 1947. Today, that number is still below 5,000, and a small percentage of those are Latinos, making this even more significant.
Latinos have had their share of NBA champions, many of whom had standout performances in the playoffs en route to a title. Argentinian-born Manu Ginóbili, arguably the best Latino NBA player ever, is a four-time NBA champion from his time with the San Antonio Spurs, winning titles in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014.
Puerto Rican guard J. J. Barea famously helped lead the Dallas Mavericks over LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. He averaged 13.3 points and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from both field goal and three-point range in the final three games of the series, of which the Mavs won all three.
Brazilian Tiago Splitter was the starting center for the Spurs in their 2014 title run, as was Argentinean Fabricio Oberto in 2007.
Venezuelan Carl Herrera was a key member of the Houston Rockets in their back-to-back championship runs in 1994 and 1995.
Before them all, Boricua Butch Lee, credited for being the first Latino in the NBA, and was on the Los Angeles Lakers’ 1980 championship team featured on HBO’s Winning Time, alongside such legends as Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among others.
There are other Latino NBA champions, but you get the point.
People forget JJ Barea was a BUCKET in the 2011 Finals pic.twitter.com/fsxmaRiL4O
— House Mavericks (@HouseMavericks) December 10, 2020
Horford, who turns 36 on Friday, June 3, was selected No. 3 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft after leading the University of Florida Gators to back-to-back NCAA Championships in college. The 6-foot-10 big man has been on playoff teams in 13 of his 15 NBA seasons, including four trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, three of which with these Celtics in 2017, 2018, and this year.
The five-time NBA All-Star has experienced a renaissance in these playoffs. In the Celtics’ opening-round sweep over the Brooklyn Nets, Horford opened with a 20-point, 15-rebound performance, guarding everyone imaginable on defense and setting the tone for the series.
Against the Milwaukee Bucks in the semifinals, he went toe-to-toe with the arguable best player in the world, Giannis Antetokounmpo, scoring 30 points and eight rebounds on 11-of-14 shooting in one game, and in another, scoring 22 points and 16 rebounds with four made threes.
Against the Heat, Horford average about 10 points and rebounds per game, pulling down 14 boards in the series clincher while recording 12 blocks in the six games he played.
Toscano-Anderson has been in and out of the Warriors’ rotation all season long, but the Oakland, California native has seen action in 10 games so far in these playoffs, mostly in garbage-time minutes. During the regular season, the Marquette University alum and now third-year pro averaged 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting about 49 percent across 73 appearances.
Lauded for his versatile defense, hustle plays, and athleticism, Toscano-Anderson has been a core member of the Warriors since the 2019-20 season, after he was signed following stints in the NBA G League, Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional in Mexico, and Liga Profesional de Baloncesto in Venezuela.
The two Latino players now go head-to-head in the NBA Finals, which run from June 2 until at least June 10 this year, with the possibility of stretching to June 19 if the series goes to seven games.
Bryan Fonseca is an award-winning content creator and sports journalist. He is also the author of Hidalgo Heights, and the founder, host and executive producer of the Ain’t Hard To Tell Podcast and Side Hustle. Twitter: @BryanFonsecaNY