A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Alexander, Luhnow and Watt honored at inaugural Houston Sports Awards
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One brought the city back-to-back world championships a few decades ago and may have just set up his former team for a run at a third.
One asked for patience with a team at the bottom of the standings and delivered a world championship a few years later.
And one a hero who simply lifted us onto his broad shoulders during the worst disaster the city has ever seen and gave us hope.
Leslie Alexander, Jeff Luhnow and J.J. Watt – in order – didn’t just stand out in 2017. They stood above. They made lasting impacts on the nation’s fourth-largest city and were the epitome of #HoustonStrong.
And now they’re being honored at the inaugural Houston Sports Awards, Feb. 8 at the Hilton Americas.
Alexander, who owned the Houston Rockets for 24 years before selling one of the league’s best teams to Tilman Fertitta, will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Luhnow, the Houston Astros General Manager, will be honored as Executive of the Year for rebuilding a 111-loss 2013 Astros team in into 2017 World Series Champions.
And Watt? What can you say about the Texans’ All-pro defensive end who became a sort of patron saint of Houston for raising over $37 million for Hurricane Harvey Relief? He didn’t just touch Houston, he touched the world with his YouCaring initiative and will be honored with the Sportsmanship Award.
J.J. was the talk of the town and national-news-worthy daily in the aftermath of Harvey as the three-time NFL defensive player of the year, seeded the fund with $100,000 and hoped to raise just $200,000. The effort took off and his daily total was a staple on network news as the world watched the number skyrocket in just a few short weeks to over $37 million.
You shouldn’t be surprised. The man who shared Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year honors with Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, started his Justin J. Watt Foundation, which serves middle school programs in 28 states, when he was in college at Wisconsin.
The city that celebrated his efforts, cried with him, too, when a few weeks after raising the money, Watt, who was coming back from back and groin injuries in 2016, suffered a season-ending left leg injury.
Les Alexander made news first in 2017 for putting the Houston Rockets up for sale, then for donating $10 million to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Hurricane Harvey Relief efforts. The financier and philanthropist purchased the Rockets in 1993 and delivered back-to-back NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995. He followed that up with his Houston Comets winning the first four WNBA titles from 1997-2000.
Alexander wasn’t afraid to bring superstars in to boost the roster. In his second season as owner, he added Clyde Drexler, who was key in the second NBA title, then Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen. He set the stage for this year’s powerhouse roster picking up James Harden in 2012, then adding Chris Paul before selling to Fertitta.
Jeff Luhnow knows a little about building a team, too. When he came to the Astros in 2011 from St. Louis, he asked for patience with his long-range rebuilding plan, then started fast. On his second day, he traded for Marwin Gonzales then made Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers, Jr., his first two draft picks in 2012.
The 50-year-old added manager A.J. Hinch then gave him Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. But the key to the 2017 run came just a minute before the trade deadline when he made a deal to add ace Justin Verlander. With that, the Astros, who won the AL West by 21 games, beat three storied franchises -- the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers -- on the way to the title.
Three men. Three strong legacies. And more to come.
A reminder that you can now purchase tickets for the 2018 Houston Sports Awards Golden Ticket Raffle. Each ticket gives you a chance to win a pair of season tickets to all Houston Astros, Houston Rockets, Houston Dynamo, Rodeo Houston & Houston Open home games/events during the 2018-19 season. In addition, the winner receives tickets for two Houston Texans home games, the 2018 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff and the 2018 Texas Bowl. Information is available at www.houstonsportsawards.com