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Celtics’ Al Horford has Boston’s Dominican community behind him at the NBA Finals

The Boston center is the first player from the Dominican Republic to play for an NBA championship: ‘The amount of support is unreal’

ROSLINDALE, Mass. – Guira & Tambora Restaurant is a home away from home here for many Dominicans living in New England. The restaurant prides itself in offering a “sophisticated layer of flavors” like a bowl of the Dominican national dish sancocho as well as tostones, mofongo, fried red snapper and Barcelo rum.

As of late at Guira & Tambora, the local Dominicans have also come to cheer on one of their native sons in the 2022 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics center Al Horford.

“It feels tremendous. We’re so proud to have a Dominican in the NBA Finals,” Belgica Martinez, whose son, Al Martinez, owns Guira & Tambora, told Andscape in Spanish. “We have watched every game until the end. On Monday night, we were packed with folks cheering on Al.”

There have been 10 Dominicans who have played in the NBA, including Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns, whose late mother was Dominican, and Indiana Pacers guard Chris Duarte. Horford, however, is the first Dominican-born player to participate in the NBA Finals, which also means he could be the first to bring the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy back home.

Horford, who turned 36 on June 3, was born in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, and is the son of former NBA player Tito Horford and Arelis Reynoso. In 2000, the Horfords moved to Lansing, Michigan, where Al Horford starred at nearby Grand Ledge High School before playing at the University of Florida.

Al Horford (right) carried the flag of the Dominican Republic after winning the national championship with the University of Florida in 2007.

Bob Rosato/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

“When you have someone representing you in the NBA Finals, it’s about your country. It doesn’t even matter what sport. It’s your fellow brother representing the country.” — Amelia Vega

In Puerto Plata and throughout the Dominican Republic, Dominicans are rooting for the Celtics because of their beloved Horford. Horford’s wife, Amelia Vega, a native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and the winner of the 2003 Miss Universe pageant, says they have received a lot of messages from back home about the excitement over Horford in the NBA Finals.

“It’s the first time a Dominican has made it to the Finals, so everyone is over the moon,” Vega said. “Obviously, they are expecting that we can win this. I’m getting pictures sent to me of gatherings and people printing things and putting them up in their house. They cancel everything else and plan for the game. It’s party time and NBA night no matter where it is in the Dominican Republic when Al is playing.”

Besides Puerto Plata, Horford says, he has family supporting him in other Dominican Republic cities like La Romana, Santo Domingo and Santiago De Los Caballeros. He is also receiving support from the political realm.

“The amount of support is unreal,” Horford said. “This guy made a song about me, and they sent it over to my wife. She played it for me, and it was really cool. People over there are rallying for me. The president. Former presidents. A lot of people. I’ve really been blown away by all the support we’ve been getting.”

Baseball is by far the most popular sport in the Dominican Republic. The two most popular Dominican athletes to play professionally in Boston are certainly former Boston Red Sox stars David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez. But basketball has a strong following in the Dominican Republic, most notably because of Horford. Horford has also played for the Dominican Republic in five competitions, which includes winning a gold medal in the 2012 FIBA Centrobasket.

Horford hopes that he inspires aspiring basketball players of Dominican descent.

“My impact is to make sure that they believe from seeing me on this kind of stage that they one day can be in a similar stage like this,” Horford said. “And just believe in general that if there is anything they want, they can work and strive to try to get it done.”

Said Vega: “When you have someone representing you in the NBA Finals, it’s about your country. It doesn’t even matter what sport. It’s your fellow brother representing the country.”

Jean Montero of the Dominican Republic is projected to be a second-round pick by ESPN in the upcoming NBA draft.

Steph Chambers/Getty Images

There is a Dominican prospect in next week’s NBA draft in Jean Montero, who is projected by ESPN to be a second-round choice. The 6-foot-3 point guard played for Overtime Elite last season and has also played professionally in Spain for Gran Canaria. Montero scored a game-high 23 points for the World Team against Team USA during the 2022 Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon, on April 8.

Montero grew up playing on a makeshift basketball court he made and hopes to build basketball courts in the Dominican Republic.

“I am always proud of what Dominican people have done being from a small island,” Montero said. “We are doing great things around the world.”

Dominican immigrants are the fourth-largest Hispanic group in the United States after Mexicans, Salvadorans and Cubans, according to the Migration Policy Institute. While New York-Newark-Jersey City by far had the largest Dominican population in the States from 2015 to 2019 with an estimated 641,000, Boston-Cambridge-Newton was second with 81,000. Eight percent of the Dominican population in the U.S. lives in Massachusetts, the fourth-largest Dominican population behind New York (44%), New Jersey (16%) and Florida (12%), according to Migration Policy.

Most Dominicans living in Greater Boston reside in Lawrence, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Hyde Park, West Roxbury, Mattapan and Charlestown.

“We have a very large population of Dominicans in Boston,” Vega said. “You see people walking around wearing his jersey. If you are around Jamaica Plain, there are a lot of Dominicans. It’s really nice, but we can’t get him out if he goes there because we’re going to get a thousand autograph requests and pictures.”

Horford remains in contact with some of his father’s friends in Boston, whom the latter played basketball with professionally in the Dominican Republic. Tito Horford played 63 games in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks (1988-90) and Washington Bullets (1993-94).

“Dominicans are always very proud of me,” Horford said. “A couple of guys who have played with my dad in the DR league live here. I’m in touch with them and see them from time to time. I leave them tickets. Our relationship here with the Dominican community is very strong.

“One of the guys that helped me was David Ortiz. He helped me find a barber and the Dominican restaurants and people to help me with errands and things like that.”

Horford is quite familiar with Boston, too, as he first played for the Celtics from 2016 to 2019 and returned in 2021. The 6-foot-9, 240-pounder said there are a “few” Dominican restaurants that he loves in the Boston area, and said that his family enjoys Guira & Tambora.

Boston Celtics center Al Horford (left) being guarded by Gary Payton II (right) of the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. The Celtics are down 3-2 going into Game 6 on June 16.

Elsa/Getty Images

It’s not uncommon for Horford to bring his wife, four children, and other family members and friends to the restaurant. Al Martinez said one of his favorite dishes is queso mofongo, which is stuffed mashed plantains with fried cheese. Al Martinez also added that when the Celtics star is at the restaurant, he is always very gracious to the patrons.

“I don’t know how often he comes, but he does come to the restaurant. To him, we are the best Dominican restaurant in Boston,” Al Martinez said with a laugh. “Everyone is crazy over him. When he is here, they always want to take pictures. He is always a gentleman and friendly.”

Vega says they also enjoy a to-go Dominican restaurant called Miami in the Boston suburb of Jamaica Plain. Horford craved it after the Celtics returned home from beating the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals and was treated to a Dominican feast upon his arrival.

“We had the Dominican king menu waiting for him with the whole spread of plates. He had maduro, chivo, which is goat, everything, all the good stuff,” Vega said.

Horford, who scored 26 points in Game 1 and is averaging 11.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.2 3-pointers made during the NBA Finals, and the Celtics are in a must-win situation, down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series to the Warriors with Game 6 Thursday night in Boston. Dominicans will be rooting for Horford and his team to keep the series alive at Guira & Tambora, eight miles from the Celtics’ home of TD Garden.

“We will win. We know. We support him,” Al Martinez said. “He is a great role model, along with his wife, for all Dominicans. He is a source of pride for us.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.