Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, the chairman and CEO of Landry’s Inc., was questioned about the possibility of the NBA resuming its season by President Donald Trump during a roundtable discussion with restaurant executives and industry leaders Monday at the White House.
The session held in the State Dining Room was intended “to discuss the path forward to safely reopen their business and facilities,” according to the White House, but Trump changed the subject to the NBA with Fertitta.
“I think what they’re doing is waiting to see what happens in certain states and if we’re going to be able to play,” Fertitta said when Trump asked what would happen with basketball, meaning the NBA. “Making sure the virus continues to go in the right direction in the next few weeks. And I think that if things are going in the way that it’s going, I think the NBA, the commissioner Adam Silver, who has done an unbelievable job through this, and the 30 owners will make the decision to try to start the season up again.”
Participants on Tuesday’s NBA Board of Governors call with Silver left the virtual meeting feeling increasingly positive about the league’s momentum toward a resumption of play this season, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski last week.
Trump followed up with a more direct question: “Will you finish the season or not?”
“I think that there’s talk about finishing the season playing X number of games,” Fertitta said. “The players need to play to get paid, and right now they’re taking a 25% pay cut. They own 50% of our revenue, unlike the other sports. And so they want that revenue, even if it’s not the people-in-the-stands revenue, so they can get paid.”
Trump then asked Fertitta if the NBA, which had a little more than a month of the regular season remaining when the season was suspended March 11, would immediately begin the playoffs if the season is resumed.
“I think that we would play some games just to get it going again and create interest and then go right into the playoffs,” Fertitta said. “But I think it’ll be great for America. We’re all missing sports and everybody wants to see these great NBA teams.”
Fertitta opened his comments by calling the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic “devastating” and then referenced Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s preseason tweet that drastically reduced the NBA’s revenues generated from the robust Chinese market.
“I should’ve realized that it was going to be a bad year for China when my general manager tweeted out, you know, ‘Freedom for Hong Kong,'” Fertitta said. “That started my year.”
Trump told Fertitta that Morey “did cause you a little ruckus,” and asked if Morey still worked for the Rockets.
Despite pressure from Chinese officials, Fertitta has never wavered on Morey’s job security. On the night of Morey’s tweet, which was quickly deleted, Fertitta told ESPN that the Rockets did not have political leanings and distanced from Morey’s tweet but said that he was “the best general manager” in the league and would continue in his role.
When Fertitta answered affirmatively about Morey’s employment, Trump quipped: “He must be pretty good.”
Replied Fertitta: “It’s a trick question, but he is.”