Rockets reflect on Astroworld music festival tragedy
As the Rockets completed a road trip against the Golden State Warriors, the Astroworld Festival tragedy in Houston wasn’t far from their minds
SAN FRANCISCO — Because of the schedule, heralded NBA rookie Jalen Green and his Houston Rockets were on the road when the Astroworld Festival tragedy took place with concertgoers his age.
Had the Rockets been in Houston instead, the 19-year-old believes he would have attended rapper Travis Scott’s music festival that turned deadly.
Eight people died, including two teenagers, after a crowd of about 50,000 spectators pushed toward the stage while Scott performed at NRG Stadium. A memorial for the victims, who ranged in ages from 14 to 27, continues to grow outside the stadium.
“I thought it was sad that one of Houston’s own can’t have a concert without something tragic happening,” Green told The Undefeated after the Rockets’ 120-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday. “He was there to perform for Houston in general and he brought a lot of other rappers. I thought it was sad. At the end of the day, people have to be safe.
“If I was in town I probably would have been there. It hurts seeing how it turned into a tragedy.”
Rockets head coach Stephen Silas’ 17-year-old daughter Kyler wanted to attend the concert with some classmates. She didn’t because she was playing in an AAU volleyball tournament in Dallas over the weekend. Silas told The Undefeated he learned about the tragedy after the oldest of his two daughters called him on Nov. 5 while the Rockets were on the road in Denver. Silas was very relieved that his daughter wasn’t there. Rockets general manager Rafael Stone also told The Undefeated that his son knew one of the concertgoers who died.
As a parent who coaches many young players, Silas said, the Astroworld news instantly put him in the mindset “of the parents whose kids didn’t come back and how would I feel if I was one of those people.”
“Yes, I was happy we were on the road,” said Silas, who opened his pregame availability Sunday by offering condolences to the victims. “Our guys would have been there for sure. It would have been a really tough situation. All of the guys are really proud to be in Houston. Houstonians are really proud to be in Houston. So to have this really hurts all of us. For us to be on the road makes it good and bad at the same time. It’s good that we are on the road, trying to do our thing and win games. But bad because we’re not in it, doing what we can, being supportive and close to it.”
Silas is quite familiar with the popularity of Scott among his daughters and players. Scott is a Houston native and well-known avid Rockets fan who is close with Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and several players past and present. The Rockets were slated to celebrate “Travis Scott Day” during Wednesday’s game against the Detroit Pistons, but it was postponed following the tragedy. The Rockets will instead hold a moment of silence before the game.
Rockets forward Kenyon Martin Jr., 20, had a hard time processing the Astroworld tragedy when considering the innocence and expectation of the concertgoers attending.
“It was tough to hear. I know Travis is a big part of Houston, and with sports he reps our team and our city,” Martin said. “It’s just tough to hear about an event like that. He is trying to give back to our city and he has a tragic event like that. I just send my condolences to the family and things like that.
“No telling, but probably [me and my teammates] would have been there. It was just a lot of people and it wasn’t like [the crowd] could see what was happening with all those people. It’s tough to hear that. Their goal going out was just to have fun. They wanted to see Travis Scott and others that they wanted to see. And for life to end just like that is tough.”
The youth of the Rockets in the post-James Harden era — the roster averages 25 years of age, has eight players 23 and under, including five 19-year-olds — has caused the franchise to be hands-on with its younger players daily. And the Astroworld tragedy offered another teaching moment.
Rockets assistant coach and renowned mentor John Lucas says he calls the young players daily to check on them and talks to their families. Stone says that once a week he makes a point to talk to every player on the team face to face or on the phone, “not about basketball.” The Rockets got an interpreter/personal manager for Turkish rookie forward Alperen Sengun to help his adjustment to a new country.
“The biggest thing we had to do organizationally is that we knew we had to adjust every facet of our organization to give these guys their best opportunity for success,” Stone said. “That wasn’t just providing opportunities on the court. That was making sure we had an infrastructure as an organization to be supportive off the court on a person-by-person basis. All these guys are definitely situated. …
“You can’t treat a 19-year-old the same way you treat a 23-year-old. You can’t afford to. When we got into this, we knew what we were doing. There was a conscious effort from myself, Stephen and John Lucas to be hands-on and involved every single day.”
Said Lucas: “I call the players, text them and tease them that, ‘I got security looking at you everywhere you go.’ ”
Silas added that he is “constantly teaching” his young team on and off the court, and plans to talk to his players about the Astroworld tragedy.
Silas said he spoke to his players last week about former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III driving 156 miles per hour with a blood alcohol content twice Nevada’s legal limit before his car struck the rear of a vehicle that burned, killing a 23-year-old woman and her dog.
Silas said he would like to take his players to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and also talk about Black history, such as the Tulsa Race Massacre in Oklahoma City.
“I’m not going to go overboard with stuff,” Silas said. “But being in front of them every single day, I think it’s an important position for me and my duty to make sure they are up and conscious on what is going on. And if they want to help, they should know how.”
As for Green’s on-court performance, the No. 2 pick in the 2021 NBA draft enters Wednesday’s game against the Pistons averaging 13.6 points on 35.3% shooting from the field, 3.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 32.2 minutes per game.
Silas doesn’t worry about Green since he isn’t your typical rookie, as he’s lived away from his hometown of Fresno, California, since his junior year of high school. He also lived by himself in Walnut Creek, California, and played for the G League Ignite in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, last season. Even so, the Rockets coaching staff and brass are keeping a close eye on the prized rookie.
“Pretty much anything we need they are there for us,” Green said. “I pretty much know how to handle everything already because of the G League and how I was out there by myself.”
Martin, a second-year Rockets forward, says he has known Green since high school and is trying to help him adapt on and off the court in Houston.
“We already have a relationship,” Martin said. “Him being on my team and myself having the experience from last season, I just try to give him all the knowledge I have. We are around the same age; we’re friends and I have my best interest for him.”
Green scored a season-high 30 points against the Boston Celtics on Oct. 24, but has also scored 10 points or less in six of his first 10 games. Lucas said he has convinced Green to carry around a notebook to keep track of what he has learned, and added that he needs to get stronger.
“I’m not even close to where I want to be. I have a lot of work to do,” Green said. “I’m not playing like myself. But it comes with time. It’s new. It’s a different level. It’s not the G League. I just got to work.”
Wednesday’s game will also mark the first time Green and rookie guard Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick in the draft, square off in the regular season. Cunningham has been limited to four games due to an ankle injury and is averaging 10.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.
“I’m just looking at it as another game and hopefully another chance to get a win,” Green said of the matchup with Cunningham.