It turns out that homes, businesses, vehicles, power grids, bridges and people aren't the only things Hurricane Harvey affected. The latest casualty of the monster storm could be the shining star of the NBA’s richest player.
The player in question is James Harden of the Houston Rockets. Harden was arguably Houston’s most famous athlete and recently inked the most lucrative contract in professional sports history at $228 million. On Saturday he pledged a $1 million donation to the mayor’s relief fund — the first time the public had heard from Harden since a tweet on Wednesday, asking America to pray for Texas.
His silence in the wake of the nation’s worst disaster has created a backlash on social media from people who were questioning why Harden didn’t come forward to say what he was doing to ease the suffering of 30,000 people with homes under water.
Absent Harden’s voice, JJ Watt of the Houston Texans stepped up to become the city’s — and country’s — most adored athlete as he started a victim fund that has now amassed $20 million.
“JJ Watt’s History of Heroism: Why People Trusted the NFL Star Enough to Pour $15 Million into his Houston Flood Relief Fund,” is a recent E! headline that sums it up. Watt has also been profiled in People, Time, Forbes, Sports Illustrated and practically every major U.S. publication. And now a petition is circulating to name a highway after him.
The football defensive end has become a household name as he stands in front of TV cameras night after night wearing a T-shirt and white “JJ” baseball cap pleading for funds on his Youcaring page.
At first he just hoped to raise $250,000, but now he says he is in this “for the long haul” and will do anything needed to make Houston whole again. Watt repeatedly publicized that he and his teammates would be filling 10 semi-trucks with supplies last weekend and “going directly out into the community in areas that have been hit hard and we’re going to hand those out.”
The end result was nothing short of amazing — the athletes and a band of volunteers distributed enough items to fill a Costco store: everything from plastic buckets and bleach to cat food and water. Plus autographs and selfies.
Even Harden gave kudos to his fellow athlete while he visited a shelter Saturday to announce his donation.
“I want to thank you to JJ Watt, what he’s doing for the city,” Harden said. “Thank you to the mayor, for helping me. I just want to donate and give back as much as I can so I’m going to donate $1 million to the city and to areas that need it and to people that need it to make the city stronger.”
In Harden’s absence, the public watched other athletes and entertainers starting funds or traipsing through toxic water to rescue victims. They blasted him on Twitter and it hasn’t entirely abated, even with his with donation.
“All that money James Harden got, he should have took care of Houston by his damn self,” tweeted @ThisChuck.
“JJ Watt the face of Houston, not James Harden,” tweeted @RealGloTevo.
“JJ Watt is out here busting his ass for his city. Where is James Harden?” tweeted @JLewisUTW.
Other tweets during the week were much more brutal:
Before the flood, Harden was last seen in Las Vegas the weekend before Harvey to celebrate his birthday and watch the Floyd Mayweather fight with a group of friends. Rockets spokesperson Tracey Hughes said a closed airport kept him out of town from the city he has called home since 2012.
“Our team was not in town or in season. Had they been, they would have been out helping immediately,” Hughes said.
Houston is home to several celebrities who have increased their fame and fan base by their high-profile relief efforts.
The Twitter and Instagram pages of rapper Trae Tha Truth are filled with videos depicting his rescues of stranded residents by both boat and vehicle. Several times a day he posted his location and asked for victims to post their addresses so he could pick them up. He often partnered with UFC star Derrick Lewis, who also posted his own rescues in his monster pickup truck. Social media is filled with hundreds of loving posts for the pair.
Trae has started a GoFundMe page to personally hand out money to people in the bayou because, with other organizations, “I can’t promise or say what they are going to do with the money or if you will see the money.” So far his fund has raised $130,000.
After he finished his rescue efforts one day, Trae visited the convention center where about 9,000 residents were sheltered.
“I took some time yesterday and today….to uplift people. Even tho we lost so much, them few moments can help a person push harder," he wrote in a post.
Other Rockets personnel have been in the news with their contribution to flood victims.
Team owner Leslie Alexander has donated $10 million to the Mayor's Hurricane Relief Fund and coach Mike D'Antoni $100,000. Rockets point guard Chris Paul, who just arrived this season and has yet to play a single season game, donated $75,000 to Watt’s fund.
And Rockets center Clint Capela, stuck in his apartment in downtown Houston for five days, used his popularity on Twitter to relay messages of trapped residents and animals along with responses by authorities.
“All of them want to help and we are currently working on the best way to do so,” Hughes said of the players.