The Houston Rockets gave a standing ovation to Santa Fe High School seniors, first responders, and administrators before beginning Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Thursday. The school is located 30 miles from Houston and gained national attention after a 17-year-old student opened fire. The shooter killed eight students and two teachers and injured 13 others. He has confessed to the crime.
On Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta’s insistence, over 300 members of Santa Fe’s senior class and first responders attended the game. A native of the Galveston County, the Houston boss provided police escort to the group, and more than 20 different law enforcement agencies were represented here. He also suggested that he has plans of hosting and honoring the victims and survivors of the incident as soon as he heard about it.
“All we’re trying to do is give them a memory,” said Fertitta. He was joined by the Houston police chief Art Acevedo who went to meet and greet the group as soon as they reached the city limits. “I remember my last week in high school and how special it was. To think that these kids, their last week in high school, what they had to remember, we’re going to do whatever we can do to take that memory and make it a little more special. They’re just kids. They’re just like your kids’ friends and everybody else, and it’s just horrific what they had to go through,” he said.
The high school choir performed to an emotional audience before the national anthem, with students holding the American and Texas flags on the court. The team also wore green and gold imprinted “Santa Fe HS” gray ribbons on their left shoulders. Fertitta’s family and team CEO Tad Brown also wore the high school t-shirts to honor the victims.
The team boss also welcomed school Principal Rachel Blundell to attempt the First Shot in the game. He started the tradition this year to let a celebrity make a free throw in the game. He donates $5,000 to charity if the celebrity hits and $1,000 if he missed. This time, he committed to giving the larger total to the Santa Fe Strong Memorial Fund, regardless of the result.
The team also came forward to donate the proceeds of their 50/50 raffle of the game to the fund. Coach Mike D’Antoni hoped that the team’s efforts to help the victims and survivors of the incident would help in bringing a positive change.
He said, “It’s so much more meaningful than what we do. I’m just glad that Tilman and the organization and everybody is behind it 100 percent. If it moves two or three people to understand we’ve got to have some change, that would be great. But your heart goes out to them, and it puts you back in reality really quick. It’s just time for something to change. We just can’t go on.”
Houston defeated the Golden State Warriors in a close 98-94 game to lead the series 3-2. Another win could land the team in the NBA finals.