The National Basketball Association is returning to the Magic City for a preseason game.
Houston Rockets star James Harden along with teammate Nenê and team officials were in Birmingham on Thursday to help make the surprise announcement at Parker High School in front of excited students.
In partnership with BBVA Compass, the Rockets will play a preseason game in Birmingham in the 2018 season. The date and opponents will be announced at a later date.
The city last hosted an NBA game a decade ago.
Playing in Birmingham is about more than the game, said Harden.
“We’re making more of an effort to make sure these fans get an opportunity to meet with us,” he said. “Not just play basketball but get an opportunity to hang out with us, and have a conversation, let them know that we’re human.”
Playing in Birmingham gave the team a chance to play “out-of-market games,” Brown said. “Many times we go to Shanghai or Beijing, but the opportunity to come here was interesting. Birmingham is a great city – I’ve been here many times – I have a daughter who goes to school down the road, so it was really appealing,” he said.
The visit took Parker students by surprise.
BBVA Compass Birmingham Market CEO Andrea Smith and Birmingham Mayor William Bell gave hints on who the surprise guest would be during a pep rally on Thursday.
“I believe he is an Olympic gold medalist,” Smith said. “A five-time all-star. I believe he wears the number 13.”
Students began cheering as they realized who it was, running to the edge of the bleachers.
The gym exploded with confetti and screams at Harden walked through the blue curtains that led to the gym.
Students were then chosen to play a game of Knockdown, a free throw game, while Harden sat on the sideline and cheered the students on.
“I wanted it to be about the kids. It’s who we’re here for, it’s about them and it was their time to shine. It was a joy to watch them,” Harden said. “The energy that was in that gym, I’m sure it’s like that for the entire city. I’m going to go back and tell my teammates and coaches that we’re excited to come back here next year, and it’s going to be fun.”