Michigan State student John Hao, who survived the on-campus mass shooting in February that killed three students, watched the game as Harden's guest. Harden met with Hao before the game, then scored 42 points including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds left in overtime, securing a 116-115 76ers win to tie the Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2-2.
After the game, Harden signed his game-worn shoes, then gave them to Hao.
76ers James Harden signs shoes for Michigan State shooting victim John Hao after hitting the game winning 3 pointer over the Celtics. pic.twitter.com/HH1qIXNT0P
— VideoMixtape.com (@VideoMixtape_) May 7, 2023
“I put the work in," Harden told ESPN after the game. "It’s all about being aggressive. Tonight it was really do or die.
"I had a special guest in the building. Little JH. He gave me good luck, he brought me good vibes, good energy. Really this game is for him."
He then vowed to invite Hao back for “every game from here on out” and shared the postgame moment on his social media.
Hao was paralyzed in Michigan State shooting
Hao, 20, was shot in the Michigan State attack and left paralyzed from the chest down. Harden found out that Hao is a big fan of his and reached out to him on FaceTime while Hao was receiving treatment in a hospital.
“Everything will work itself out, be strong,” Harden told Hao in February via FaceTime. “You’re alright. You’ll be alright. I promise you are … I love when you’re smiling, alright? I’m with you. I know it’s tough right now, but you have to stay physically strong, you know what I mean? You gotta just think positive things and keep pushing and keep fighting.”
He contributed to Hao's GoFundMe for medical expenses and sent him a pair of his game-worn shoes. He also promised to invite him to a 76ers game. On Sunday, he made good on that promise.
Hao was released last week from a rehabilitation center in Chicago and showed up in Philadelphia for Sunday's game. He watched courtside from the baseline during 76ers warmups, where he shared a hug with Harden.
James Harden with a pregame hug for John Hao, a Michigan State shooting survivor.
Hao’s a big fan of Harden, who connected with him and invited him to a game: pic.twitter.com/LwvQrbwt46
— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) May 7, 2023
He then watched the game with his parents from the stands.
James Harden is COOKIN' and his guest John Hao is loving it 🙌 pic.twitter.com/u8Vr1h6B4b
— ESPN (@espn) May 7, 2023
"There's so much craziness going on in the world, and nobody should go through what John has gone through," Harden told ESPN. "To have even an imprint during his recovery, to give him some joy back, I feel is my calling."
Hao, an international student from China, spoke with the Associated Press about Harden's support.
“When I got injured, he read the news about that, he just came to give us all the support we need,” Hao said. “I’m so appreciative of that.”
He said that he needs further treatment and that he's not sure what his next steps will be. He intends to graduate from Michigan State but hasn't ruled out moving back to China with his parents.
“I hope to get back to my normal life and rehab as soon as possible."