The Fertitta Era Begins

Tilman talks: New Rockets owner discusses national anthem, Toyota Center food, and why he loves the NBA

Tilman talks: New Rockets owner on national anthem, Toyota Center food

Houston, Rockets CEO Tad Brown and owner Tilman Fertitta, Oct 2017
Houston Rockets CEO Tad Brown and owner Tilman Fertitta. Photo by Marcy de Luna
Houston, Tilman Fertitta, September 2017
Fertitta acquired the Rockets from Les Alexander for $2.2 billion.  Courtesy of cnbc.com
Houston, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and family, Oct 2017
Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and family.  Photo by Marcy de Luna
Houston, Rockets CEO Tad Brown and owner Tilman Fertitta, Oct 2017
Houston, Tilman Fertitta, September 2017
Houston, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and family, Oct 2017

It’s not every day that an NBA franchise gets a new owner. There are, after all, only 30 teams. Thursday, the NBA Board of Governors unanimously approved Tilman Fertitta as the new owner of the Houston Rockets, setting the stage for the commencement of the Fertitta era. He acquired the franchise from Les Alexander for $2.2 billion.

Fertitta, who was a limited partner with former Rockets owner Charlie Thomas in the early 1980s and an advisory director for the Rockets during the two years they won back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995, is no stranger to the NBA team.

The Houston billionaire had a lot to say when he and Rockets CEO Tad Brown met with the press on Tuesday. Read on for their answers to nine questions on topics ranging from bringing an NHL team to the Bayou City to the concessions at Toyota Center:

Why the Houston Rockets?

“I kind of went through my life, and I’ve had a wonderful life and a wonderful family and lots of good things have happened to me, and I got to a point where I said, ‘Gosh, if I laid my head down on the pillow for the last time, the one thing that I never got to accomplish was owning a team in my hometown,'" Fertitta said.

“I started listening to the San Diego Rockets when I was in junior high school, when they said they were moving to Houston, Texas, with Elvin Hayes. That’s when I became a Rockets fan. So I’ve been on the ride from the beginning.”

On receiving the big news

“It was a wonderful moment. I was on my boat in Marina del Rey shooting Billion Dollar Buyer. I was sick and at the same time the storm (Harvey) was coming, and Tad (Brown) called and asked me to come in the next morning," Fertitta said.

”If I can expand, it was the Friday the storm was hitting, we were closing the offices, Tilman was sick, and Leslie (Alexander) told me to engage in closing discussions with Tilman," Brown said. "When I called (to tell him), we were FaceTiming each other, Tilman put his head down and started to cry. And you could see, immediately, that it was the right call.”

Now that it’s official, how does it feel?

"This is the ultimate. You’re in a club of 30. Anybody can go build a boardwalk, anybody can go build an aquarium, anybody can build a tall building, but not everyone gets to own an NBA franchise,” Fertitta said.

What sort of owner will you be?

“I can’t describe what kind of owner I’m going to be. Somebody said, ‘Are you going to be more like Peter Holt (owner of the San Antonio Spurs) or more like Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks)?’

“ … I don’t think I’ll be anything like Mark Cuban, who has an excellent style to be as successful as he’s been, and I think Peter has an unbelievable style that fits him to run San Antonio, but I’m just going to be Tilman.”

The NFL, MLB, and NBA

TF on NFL: “We don’t really know where football is going. There’s nothing like the NFL, we all agree that we wait for football season, but even people that I know in football are concerned about where it’s going to be in 50-60 years."

TF on MLB: “And then you have baseball and the average viewing age is 60 years old.”

TF on the NBA: "The NBA has become a true world sport. Out of the three major (professional sports), leaving out hockey, I think this is by far the best one to have today. I would have been scared to pay $2.2 billion for an NFL franchise … the NBA is where it’s at.”

Is Houston getting an NHL franchise?

“We’ve looked at many NHL teams over the years. It wasn’t a matter of not wanting to bring someone in, whether they be a tenant or not, it’s just that the deals didn’t work," Brown said. “Tilman and I have talked about a number of different things. There’s optionality going forward with things that he wants to look at. And we’re going to look at everything that makes sense for this building, for his companies, and for the city of Houston."

“You’ve got to pay attention to the numbers," Fertitta said. "I would put an NHL team here tomorrow, but this one (the Rockets) has got to work. Do I want to see Toyota Center filled up 300 nights a year? Definitely. We’ll do whatever we can do, but it’s got to make sense. But will we be aggressive? Yes, that’s my nature.” 

Will you make any changes to concession offerings at Toyota Center?

“We want to cross promote anything we can — I’ve got to offset that $2.2 billion! There’s one company that owns everything: Fertitta Entertainment, of which I own 100 percent. It owns the Houston Rockets, Landry’s 600 restaurants, the huge hospitality division, and the huge gaming division — I don’t think they’ll let me put a casino in here!

"There is a contract with the Levy organization. We have a good relationship with them and they’ll let us do basically whatever we want to do. So will you start seeing some of our brands and our food? Yes.”

Do you have a policy for the National Anthem?

 “The NBA has a policy. And the NBA says everybody’s going to stand up for the National Anthem. And I think it’s really good — that’s what we should do. I totally believe in free speech, and everybody should do what they want to do on their time, but we’re going to live by the NBA policy. I have to follow their policies, so I expect the players to.”

What does this mean for your family?

“This family loves owning the Houston Rockets and they will be involved in the decision making process as much as I will.

“This is a generational asset. If you know us, we are not big sellers of assets, we are acquirers. I would be extremely disappointed, and I think they would be, too, if any of y’all are still covering this team in 50 years without the Fertitta family.”