John Hao was in the hospital with catastrophic injuries suffered in the mass shooting at Michigan State University when he received a video call to lift his spirits.
The call came on Feb 22 from none other than NBA superstar James Harden, who counts Hao as a fan.
“Everything will work itself out. You’re strong,” Harden said during their conversation. “Keep pushing and keep fighting.”
Hao, 20, an international student from China, was among several people shot on the Michigan State campus in East Lansing late on Feb 13. Three students were killed, and at least five others were wounded. Another of the wounded students also is from China.
“I know it’s tough right now, but you have to stay physically strong, you know what I mean?” 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 FaceTime call by telling Hao, “Let me know if you need anything else.”
Argent Qian, Hao’s college roommate, explained in a GoFundMe.com 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 the translator for the family from Harbin, in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang province. “As he remains stabilized in the ICU with a breathing tube inserted in his lung, his family is facing significant financial burdens.”
Netizens expressed their concern in comments posted to a WeChat article seeking donations for Hao in China.
“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. I hope Hao can recover soon and live strong so that his parents can feel at ease,” said “Xun”.
“I wish him a speedy recovery. While his parents take care of Hao, I hope that they will also take care of themselves,” wrote “Windline”.
The GoFundMe page, which as of Monday evening had received nearly $415,000 in pledges — approaching double the goal of $230,000 — mentions that Harden is Hao’s favorite player, which is how he learned of Hao’s situation.
Harden has sent gifts to Hao, who is pursuing a career in sports management, including a pair of NBA game-worn sneakers, which were personally delivered to him by members of Harden’s team at the hospital in Lansing, Michigan.
“John is a beloved member of our Spartan community, a leader in a student organization, and a passionate sports enthusiast,” wrote Qian.
“He is a little brother to me, and also my beloved roommate since his freshman year,” Qian told Michigan website mlive.com. “I watched him grow, I taught him to drive, and I helped him get his driver’s license.”
“There’s things like that, where you sit back and think about just real life and things bigger than basketball,” Harden told ESPN after Philadelphia’s 110-105 home victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb 23. “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.
“That’s what I have this platform for, so hopefully, he can recover and bounce back out of that sooner than later,” Harden said. “I gave him my number so whenever he feels like he needs anything, he can call me to check up.
“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.
On Feb 3, 2017, when Harden was playing for the Houston Rockets, he scored 42 points in a 121-117 overtime win over the Chicago Bulls. Before that game, the Rockets retired the jersey number of China’s basketball legend Yao Ming. As the players lined up to congratulate Yao, the 6-foot-5 Harden memorably leapt into the arms of the 7-foot-6 Yao.