Men's Basketball Sports

Rockets purchase ‘a dream come true’ for Fertitta

Billionaire and UH Board of Regents Chair Tilman Fertitta stands in locker room during his introductory press conference at the Toyota Center on Oct. 10. Fertitta, the new owner of the Houston Rockets, purchased the team for $2.2 billion. | Courtesy of NBAE/Getty

Billionaire and UH Board of Regents Chair Tilman Fertitta is finally living his dream of owning the Houston Rockets after his $2.2 billion purchase of the professional basketball franchise was approved by the NBA.

Fertitta isn’t simply another billion-dollar buyer trying to profit off of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Galveston native has called Houston home for most of his life and made his fortune here. After missing his shot to buy the franchise in 1993, he is finally part of an exclusive 30-member club of NBA owners in the city that helped him gain his fortune.

“I am truly honored to have been chosen as the next owner of the Houston Rockets,” Fertitta said in a news release. “This is a lifelong dream come true. (Previous Rockets owner) Leslie Alexander has been one of the best owners in all of sports, and I thank him immensely for this opportunity. He has the heart of a champion.”

Making history

The record-breaking purchase was first announced Sept. 5 after a short search by Alexander, who owned the franchise for the last 24 years.

Fertitta and Alexander first met when they both bid for the Rockets in 1993. Even though Fertitta lost, they remained good friends, and the UH alumnus became the director of the organization.

“Myself and John Morse made an attempt to buy the Houston Rockets, and we lost,” Tillman said. “That’s when I realized that there is never justice in the courthouse. We got out-lawyered, but I would never let that happen again.”

Alexander paid $85 million for the franchise at the time. After the purchase, he brought a pair of NBA championships to Houston in his first two years as owner.

Fertitta already helped the Rockets win two championships as director, but he said owning the team means much more to him because Houston is his hometown, and it is something he has wanted for a long time.

Love for Houston

Although Fertitta’s love for the city may seem odd to some, his time in Southeast Texas shows a man who owes his fortune to the thriving Houston community and economy.

Fertitta didn’t inherit a fortune, win the lottery or ask his father for a million-dollar loan. Instead, he started by working at his father’s restaurant in Galveston, learning to do everything from peeling shrimp to working the register.

“I learned how to check in fresh fish at the backdoor. I learned how to fry shrimp. I learned how to change oil,” Fertitta said. “Back then, you used to have a real cashier, and everybody would walk up to the front and pay their check, and so I loved to cashier sometimes and balance out the waiters when they would check out.”

At 13, he even asked his father to go home and let him oversee the business because he was so confident that he could already run the seafood restaurant, Fertitta said.

Fertitta took the knowledge he learned working for his father and acquired a $6,000 loan at 23 to start the Key Largo Hotel in Galveston. From there, he opened his first Landry’s Seafood House in 1980, and later opened Willie G’s Seafood & Steaks in uptown Houston.

After working with partners to open both restaurants, he became the sole owner of Landry’s before he eventually took it public, according to the franchise.

Landry’s Inc. went public in 1993 with Fertitta as CEO and was valued at $30 million, according to the company. The company’s worth grew to $1.7 billion 18 years later.

Landry’s everywhere

Fertitta turned Houston into his own empire. Houstonians who can afford to go to restaurants have probably at one time visited a Fertitta-owned business.

From the downtown Aquarium to Rainforest Cafe and Saltgrass Steak House, Fertitta has made his mark on the city of Houston. He also contributes to the executive committee of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the boards of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the Houston-area Boy Scouts of America council — among several others.

The self-made businessman has turned Southeast Texas into his own Monopoly game, and he is making everyone in the family angry because he is buying up all of the properties.

As the chair of the UH Board of Regents since 2009, Fertitta makes key decisions that affect all corners of UH System. In addition, he cemented his legacy with UH by giving a $20 million gift for the Fertitta Center. The state-of-the-art facility will be the new home of the basketball team and yet another landmark for Fertitta.

The entrepreneur studied business administration and hospitality management at Texas Tech University and UH but ultimately dropped out of both.

Despite all of his accomplishments, the purchase of the Rockets is a dream come true for Fertitta.

“I don’t want to take away anything from the great things that I’ve been able to build for the Houston area … but honestly nothing compares,” he said. “Nothing compares whatsoever. Anybody can go build a boardwalk, anybody can go build an aquarium, anybody can build tall buildings, but not everybody gets to own an NBA franchise.”

[email protected]

Leave a Comment