Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden fulfilled a promise to John Hao – a survivor of the Michigan State University shooting in February, which killed three students and wounded five more – on Sunday with an invitation to the team’s crucial series-equalling Game 4 playoff win against the Boston Celtics.
Harden became friends with Hao, an international student from China who has been left paralyzed from the shooting, over FaceTime calls since February’s shooting.
Hao and his family had been invited by Harden to a Philadelphia game once Hao was able to travel – and true to his word, Harden had the 20-year-old in attendance for Sunday’s key game, with the pair sharing a hug during pre-game warmups.
Hao and his dad – both wearing Harden’s No. 1 jersey – watched the game from the stands where they were treated to a thrilling affair with their friend playing a key role.
Harden had 42 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and hit the game-winning three-pointer in overtime to give the Sixers a 116-115 win over the Celtics to level their best-of-seven playoff series at 2-2.
Newly-crowned MVP Joel Embiid pitched in 34 points and 13 rebounds to help Harden fight off a spirited Celtics squad which had six players hit double figures, led by Jayson Tatum’s 24 points, 18 rebounds and six assists.
After the game, Harden met Hao on court, signing his game-worn shoes and giving them to him as a memento from the game.
In a post on social media afterwards, Harden called Hao his “good luck charm.”
In a video featured on Philly’s official social media page, Harden suggested that Hao might have to return to the Wells Fargo Center for Game 6.
“I don’t know what you got going or what your schedule is, but Game 6 you gotta be back here,” Harden said. “Because you’re the good luck charm. For real, I just kept thinking about you.”
Harden had reached out to Hao after he learned that the 20-year-old was a fan of his. The 10-time NBA All-Star donated money and shoes to Hao during his recovery, as well as calling him over FaceTime where he invited him to a game and offered encouragement during his rehabilitation process.
“I’ve been keeping in contact with him. Obviously, like any of us in here, something tragic like to happen, it’s a lot of nonsense going on in the world,” Harden said during his post-game press conference.
Hao watches warm ups ahead of Game 4. - Matt Slocum/AP
“For him to be a victim of that is heartbreaking. I mean he’s strong, he’s bouncing back, he’s recovering really well. I feel like it’s my job to give him that light, that smile he deserves, that he needs. Hopefully, today was one of those days where he’s smiling. That’s all I’m here for.”
Hao was injured in February’s shooting at Michigan State University where Anthony Dwayne McRae, 43 – who had no known ties to the university – opened fire on two parts of campus, MSU police said. He was later found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
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