One of the easiest ways for a person to slip up and reveal more than they want to is when they are trying to impress someone. NBA’s newest owner, Tilman Fertitta, was at the White House participating in a meeting with “restaurant executives and industry leaders” when Donald Trump asked him about the Rockets and the NBA. What could go wrong, right?
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Trump asked Fertita how’s he handling the fact he is paying basketball players $25 million a year, and they are not playing. The Rockets owner started to answer, and it seemed we are about to get something juicy.
I have two of them that make 40 [million], Russell and James. They are good, but they...yes, they are getting paid because of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that’s why...
This is where Trump cut Fertitta off to ask about the situation in the entire NBA and the chances of it returning. At a crucial time when it seemed Fertitta was ready to go on a rant. “They are good, but” and then the CBA part made it seem like the new owner is going to start and complain about paying two guys $80 million for not playing. Trump giveth with the first question and taketh with the second one.
Fertitta was unprompted on this one. No surprise, the conversation on the panel mentioned China, and this is where the Rockets owner saw his opening for some light humor.
“It’s funny, you brought up about China. I should have realized it was gonna be a bad year for China when my general manager tweeted out ‘Freedom for Hong Kong.’ That started my year with China.”
Trump and Fertitta laughed, Fertitta explained he is still working that situation out. Trump told everyone that Fertitta owns the Rockets and mentioned that Morey “caused a little ruckus” and asked if Morey was still working for the Rockets, saying “he must be pretty good.”
“Yes, he is. Because... it’s a trick question, but yes he is.”
The trick part was the fact the league backed Morey’s right to free expression, and Fertita couldn’t then fire him as it would seem he is choosing money over values. It’s no secret Fertita keeps a close eye on spending - the Rockets made a lot of trades that sacrificed competitiveness to get the team under the luxury tax line, and he stretched his finance very thin to buy the team in the first place. COVID-19 didn’t help - Fertitta’s core business are casinos, restaurants, and bars.
Unfortunately, Trump interrupted Fertita just as he was ready to share his frustrations, but we can deduce that it’s not all roses back in Houston. Two superstars that “are good, but..” and a GM whose job status is a trick question. Don’t forget the lame-duck coach who’s probably out of Houston whenever the season ends.
If I were a Rockets fan, all this wouldn’t give me confidence about the direction of the franchise.