PHILADELPHIA — When 76ers star James Harden saw the news that John Hao — a 20-year-old Michigan State student and huge fan of the future Hall of Fame point guard — had been paralyzed from the chest down in the tragic shooting on the university’s campus earlier this month, Harden knew he had to do something.
“There’s things like that, where you sit back and think about just real life and things bigger than basketball,” Harden said after Philadelphia’s 110-105 win over the Memphis Grizzlies at Wells Fargo Center Thursday night, the Sixers’ first game back from the All-Star break. “I heard that he was a fan of mine, so I wanted to get up on that ASAP and just see what I could do, anything I could do.”
Harden said members of his team heard about Hao’s situation, so a couple of them went to visit Hao at Sparrow Hospital, where he remains after the shooting. Harden sent sneakers, including a game-worn pair, donated to Hao’s GoFundMe and called him on FaceTime to offer him some encouraging words.
“I love when you’re smiling,” Harden said on the call, a video of which was shown on “NBA Today” on Thursday. “I love when you’re smiling, all right? I’m with you. I know it’s tough right now, but you have to stay physically strong, you know what I mean? You just got to think positive things and keep pushing and fighting. I got you. I got some guys for you, too. I got some things coming your way, hopefully give you some encouragement and make you smile a little bit, you know what I mean? Let me know if you need anything else.”
The GoFundMe was started by Hao’s roommate, Argent Qian, to help pay for Hao’s medical expenses in the wake of the shooting, which the page said left Hao paralyzed after he was shot in the back.
“John is a beloved member of our Spartan community, a leader in a student organization, and a passionate sports enthusiast,” wrote Qian, who added Harden is Hao’s favorite player.
Three students were killed and five others — including Hao — were wounded in the shooting Feb. 13 on Michigan State’s campus.
“The more I can encourage and rub off this energy that I have and give him hope, I feel like that’s what I’m here for,” Harden said. “And that’s what I’ve got this platform for. Hopefully he can recover and bounce back out of that sooner than later, but I gave him my number, so whenever he ever feels like he needs anything he can call me and I check up on him.”
Harden had a terrific game Thursday against the Grizzlies, finishing with 31 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists to help the 76ers come back from as many as 17 down. He passed 76ers legend Allen Iverson for 31st on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in the process.
When asked about passing Iverson after the game, Harden admitted even the idea of making the NBA as a kid was nothing more than a “far-fetched dream.” Still, he said having the ability to help someone in Hao’s position is something that means far more to him.
“It’s bigger than basketball,” Harden said. “This is real life, you know what I mean? This is bigger than basketball. I’m fortunate just to be in a position where I can make an impact on people’s lives. That’s what I really care about. That’s what I value, and that’s what makes me happy, obviously other than basketball, family, things like that. It’s a tragedy. He wasn’t expecting that. There was nothing he could control. That’s the craziest part about it. Anything I can do my part, I’m going to do it.”