Beisbol rules in the Dominican Republic, but one of the game’s biggest stars grew up watching another sport: basketball. Long-time Boston Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz got hooked on hoops before he ever made it off the island and to the Bigs. Over time, the 6-4 bear of a man with 437 career HRs has become a familiar sight at the TD Garden. From the baseline, Ortiz has befriended many NBA players, including fellow Dominican Al Horford. Big Papi sat down with us in the locker room before a recent game to talk hoops, the Celtics and more.
SLAM: Growing up in the Dominican Republic, how did you become a basketball fan?
David Ortiz: Michael Jordan. Growing up, that’s how you heard about the NBA. Michael Jordan, NBA. I liked everything about him. That guy, he was the Dr. J of the new generation at the time. Everybody watched him.
SLAM: Which of Jordan’s moments stand out to you?
DO: The Playoffs, definitely.
SLAM: He was clutch like you.
DO: [Laughs] You said that.
SLAM: Once you got to the US, what was the most memorable basketball game you attended?
DO: I was playing rookie ball in Arizona and they have the Phoenix Suns over there so I went to a game. I have a friend back home who was a huge fan of Charles Barkley, so went to the arena to see a game. It was awesome. They were playing Portland.
SLAM: How does watching a baseball game compare to watching a basketball game?
DO: It all depends if you’re a fan of basketball or a fan of baseball. It’s a different view. In baseball, as a fan, you need a lot more patience because things happen kind of slowly. Basketball is a lot of action, always moving.
SLAM: You were there for the Celtics’ championship games in ’08. What do you remember?
DO: I left [Game 6] with like a minute left. You know how crazy that was? Think about me in between everybody. [Waves hands in the air, laughs] Those games were exciting. They had the Big Three out there doing their thing. I got to meet Kevin [Garnett] and his family, Ray Allen. They were cool.
SLAM: You have a great relationship with Al Horford.
DO: That’s my boy.
SLAM: How would you describe it now?
DO: It’s great, great. We call each other, try to stay in touch. I see him most of the time he’s here. We hang out at my house, cook, do whatever.
SLAM: Why is it important for two pro athletes from the Dominican to be friends like that?
DO: That’s how we grew up. We are friendly people.
SLAM: What do you think the future of the NBA is in the Dominican Republic?
DO: It’s great. The future of the NBA is great everywhere. Who doesn’t like playing basketball? Every single person in this room is related to basketball one way or the other.
SLAM: What is your favorite piece of NBA memorabilia?
DO: I have a LeBron James basketball signed by him.
SLAM: How did you get that?
DO: Hey, I know people that know people [laughs].
SLAM: What do you like about LeBron?
DO: I love LeBron. He’s a great athlete. He’s a guy that people don’t really want to recognize the things that he earned through the years. I don’t know why. But whenever you have an athlete like LeBron James around, it’s an appreciation.
SLAM: Could you ever see an NBA athlete playing baseball?
DO: Maybe. Basketball players are super athletic and it’s all about hand and eye coordination. They have the athleticism which helps a lot, so why not?