Philadelphia 76ers' James Harden (center) drives past New York Knicks' RJ Barrett (left) and Cam Reddish during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Feb 27, 2022, in New York. (PHOTO / AP)
John Hao was in the hospital with catastrophic injuries suffered in a mass shooting at Michigan State University nine days earlier when he received a video call to lift his spirits.
It came on Feb 22 from the basketballer James Harden, who counts Hao as a fan. "Everything will work itself out," the NBA player told Hao. "You're strong. Keep pushing and keep fighting."
Hao, 20, an international student from China, was among several people shot at the university in East Lansing late on Feb 13. Three students were killed and at least five others were wounded. Another of the wounded students is also from China.
"I know it's tough right now, but you have to stay physically strong," said Harden, 33, who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers. "You just got to think positive things and keep pushing and keep fighting."
Harden concluded the call by telling Hao, "Let me know if you need anything else."
Argent Qian, Hao's college roommate, said in a GoFundMe campaign set up to help pay medical expenses that when Hao was shot in the back "the bullet severed John's spinal cord and critically injured his lungs", leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
"His parents from China are mentally crushed and traveled to Michigan to see him without being able to speak English," wrote Qian, who acted as interpreter for the family from Harbin, Heilongjiang province.
"As he remains stabilized in the intensive care unit with a breathing tube inserted in his lung, his family is facing significant financial burdens."
Internet users expressed their concern in comments posted to a WeChat article seeking donations in China for Hao. "Now that I am a mother, I understand how difficult it was for my mother to let me study abroad in the United States to realize my dream," one said. "I hope Hao can recover soon and live strong so that his parents can feel at ease."
The GoFundMe page, which by Monday evening had received nearly $415,000 in pledges — the goal had been $230,000 — says Harden is Hao's favorite player, and it was that comment that drew Harden's attention to his plight.
Harden has sent gifts to Hao, who is pursuing a career in sports management, including a pair of NBA game-worn shoes, delivered to him by members of Harden's team at the hospital in Lansing.
"John is a beloved member of our Spartan community, a leader in a student organization, and a passionate sports enthusiast," Qian wrote, referring to the university.
Qian told the Michigan website mlive.com: "He is a little brother to me, and also my beloved roommate since his freshman year."
Harden told the TV sports network ESPN after Philadelphia's 110-105 home victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb 23: "There's things like that, where you sit back and think about just real life and things bigger than basketball. 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. … I gave him my number so whenever he feels like he needs anything he can call me.
"I'm just fortunate and blessed to be in a position where I can make an impact in people's lives," Harden said. "That's what I really care about. … It's a tragedy. He wasn't expecting that. It's something that he can't control, and that's the craziest part about it."
Harden scored 31 points and had seven rebounds and seven assists in the Memphis game to help the 76ers bounce back from as many as 17 points down. He also passed 76ers legend Allen Iverson for 31st on the NBA's all-time scoring list in the game.
Six years ago when Harden was playing for the Houston Rockets he scored 42 points in a 121-117 win over the Chicago Bulls. Before that game, the Rockets retired the jersey number of the Chinese player Yao Ming. As the players offered their congratulations, the 195-cm Harden leaped into the arms of Yao, towering above him at 228 cm.
Minlu Zhang in New York contributed to this story.