Chris Forsberg

Al Horford is still dunking on Father Time in new reserve role

The 37-year-old has made a seamless transition in his 17th NBA season.

NBC Universal, Inc.

On page 198 of the NBA’s latest collective bargaining agreement, you’ll find something called the “Over 38 Rule.” It once was called the “Over 35 Rule” then morphed to the “Over 36 Rule.” Like the rest of us, it just keeps getting older.

The “Over 38 Rule” is an ice cream headache of a provision designed to prevent cap circumvention by any team looking to pay aging players beyond their expected playing days. Unless you’re a historian of the great Maybyner Rodney Hilario — aka Nene — you've probably never heard of the “Over 38 rule” or any of its previous incarnations. And we’re not here to belabor it. No, we’re here to pitch Adam Silver on a fresh new idea.

The “Over 37 Rule.”

Unlike its boring CBA counterpart, this rulebook addendum would aim to loosen a surprising new concern among the NBA’s eldest tricenarians by easing restrictions in one specific area: Rim hanging.

You see, at least one NBA official did not approve of 37-year-old Al Horford lingering on the rim after slamming home an alley-oop feed from Jaylen Brown in the fourth quarter of Boston's win over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night. Horford had the audacity to hang on the rim for what our iPhone stopwatch very unscientifically suggested was 1.8 seconds.

The NBA, it seems, does not approve of any man hanging on the rim for anything approaching Two Mississippis (unless it’s to avoid a player below them). Our “Over 37 Rule” would bestow a bit of benevolence to NBA veterans, regardless of opponent proximity, while recognizing the infrequency with which these basketball senior citizens might even get the opportunity to dangle above the paint.

The NBA’s statistical database suggests that Horford produced just 11 dunks in 1,922 minutes of regular-season floor time last season. What’s more, only one was tagged an alley-oop dunk, and it came nearly one full calendar year from the date of Saturday’s slam (Nov. 7, 2022 vs. Memphis). Referees that day did not T up Horford for an approximate 1.5 seconds of rim hanging, almost certainly because, like the rest of us, they were impressed that a 36-year-old man could still get up and throw down like that.

Yes, our rule change would celebrate sass over sportsmanship. That’s not typically the NBA way. But if you are 37 years old and you dunk, you ought to be able to hang up there for two full days is you so desire.

The Celtics were up 14 with 1:28 to play when referee Natalie Sago had enough of Horford’s gravity-resisting tomfoolery. After the tiniest of pull-ups following his dunk, Horford drew the technical call. He had every right to eyeroll the infraction, though he simply smiled in amusement.

Horford, making a spot start while Derrick White was absent for the birth of his second child, produced his best night of the young season. He finished with eight points, seven rebounds, and three assists over 30 minutes of floor time. The Celtics outscored the Nets by 29 points with him on the court.

After starting 1,003 of his first 1,013 regular-season games, Horford is adjusting to a new reserve role for a revamped Celtics team that added Kristaps Porzingis to its frontcourt this offseason. Even as his shot has defied him at times to start the year, Horford has a +19.8 net rating in 107 minutes (slotting behind only White, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown among Boston’s top regulars).

Opponents were shooting a measly 29.4 percent against Horford through four games, per the NBA’s tracking data. That was the best mark on the team and a staggering 17.2 percent below expected output.

In the 54 minutes that Horford has been asked to hold the fort without Porzingis on the floor, the Celtics have a sizzling 132.4 offensive rating and a +32.4 net rating, per PBP Stats data. Horford could be particularly important when Boston visits size-filled Minnesota on Monday night while trying to remain the only unbeaten team in the NBA.

One of the other benefits of bringing Horford off the bench is an ability to pace him this season after he piled up more than 2,500 total minutes last season when you include his playoff minutes. Horford looks lean and spry to start the new season, as his fourth-quarter alley-oop confirmed. He has been easily Boston’s most consistent bench presence.

Horford wasn’t subject to the NBA’s “Over 38 Rule” when inking his two-year extension last season. While there’s potential he’ll turn 38 during Boston’s playoff run this year, his contract length was not long enough to trigger the deferred compensation provision.

The NBA shouldn’t penalize its elderly dunkers. It should embolden them. Jeff Green turned 37 in August; let him hang when he turns back the clock. If 37-year-old Garrett Temple dunks for the first time in two years, allow him a moment to exult. Certainly, no one is whistling 38-year-old LeBron James for rim loitering any time soon.

Horford’s ability to still impact winning at a high level at age 37 is special. Our “Over 37 Rule” would simply celebrate his ability to keep dunking on Father TIme.

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