Fertitta Center

The new Fertitta Center proves to be a fortress for Houston basketball

Tilman Fertitta boasts brand new Fertitta Center Houston Cougars Men's Hoops Facebook

Tilman Fertitta reminisced about his times in the old Hofheinz Pavilion as he dribbled out a basketball to center court during the pregame ceremony in front of a sold out crowd of 7,035 at the new Fertitta Center.

“I have the memories of Hofheinz Pavilion as a kid watching basketball games here and it was a great arena back then. Now, to be here 40 years later and to be such a big part of this is special.” said Fertitta.

Judge Roy Mark Hofheinz was a man who shared a similar vision as Fertitta. “We’ll build a stadium that will make Emperor Titus’s playhouse look like an abandoned brickyard.” he exuded. Titus’s playhouse is better known as the Roman Colosseum. The staunch Houston weather made sporting events a drag for locals, but his idea was even bigger than the city itself. In 1965, the completion of the Astrodome revolutionized how we watch sports throughout the world by being the first climate controlled indoor stadium.

Hofheinz was a man that loved the city of Houston as much as Fertitta does. If he were alive to see the old Hofheinz Pavilion transform into the new Fertitta Center, it would be difficult for even him to disapprove. The University of Houston has an adequate successor, while a statue of Judge Hofheinz stands triumphantly on the new grounds.

Fertitta donated $20 million dollars to the University of Houston to rejuvenate the new home of Cougar Basketball, nearly a third of the facility’s final cost. His eagerness to help the athletics program at the university has earned him the immortalization that comes with naming the building after him, and an induction into the UH Athletics Hall of Honor alongside UH President Renu Khator.

Exactly 48 years later to the day of when Hofheinz Pavillion first opened its doors, the Fertitta Center did the same and received the promising NBA prospect 7’2 Bol Bol, and the then No. 18 Oregon Ducks.

As UH won the tip off, you could gauge how tough it will be for other schools to come in and steal a win. The intimate arena does not have a single bad seat, and its low ceilings seemingly offers a huge acoustic home team advantage. That advantage was confirmed as Jr. Guard Armoni Brooks opened up the scoreboard by hitting back to back 3-pointers. With the help of Senior Guard Corey Davis Jr. and Preseason AAC Freshman of the Year in Guard Nate Hinton, UH would go into halftime with a 37-18 lead.

There were zero lead changes in the entire game, but that doesn’t mean the Ducks didn’t come close to one. Bol Bol and company began to rally back into contention, where they even had a 10-0 run halfway through the second half. Houston began to give up rebounds, turnovers, and missed some important free throws. Coach Sampson even took off his tie, as he typically does when his team begins to lose traction in games. The score got as close as 63-61 with 11 seconds left, but Brooks closed the game out with two clutch, game sealing free throws.

Houston won its inaugural game at the Fertitta Center 65-61. They improve to 6-0 in the season and will play Lamar (Beaumont, TX) next. The Cougars extend their home win streak to 20 games, which is tied for second longest active streak. Oregon falls to 4-3, where they previously lost to another Houston school, TSU. The AP Poll came out Monday morning and dropped the Ducks, while UH remains unranked but is lingering to make a future appearance. The Coogs are also one in eleven teams who remain undefeated in all of college hoops. 

Improvements and renovations to TDECU Stadium, Guy V Lewis Development Facility, Schroeder Park, and Fertitta Center all came within the last four years. As a result, we’ve seen the baseball and football programs continually improve and land better recruits year after year. Undoubtedly, the UH basketball program will follow and more than likely surpass the success of the other programs.

"One of the ways you build brand awareness is through your athletics department. It's a proven fact that if you have winning athletics, money pours back into the university." explained Fertitta.

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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