Running late to dinner, I hopped out of my Lyft and scurried toward the swanky entrance to Mastro's last Sunday night. Another guest pulled up at the same time, and we ambled in together, just the two of us, though he was greeted by a small mob offering smiles and handshakes and camera flashes while I slid into the corner and seized a glass of champagne. He was 11 inches taller than me. He was James Harden.
That set the tone for the evening where the reservation list at Tilman Fertitta's ritzy steakhouse was more of a "who's who" than ever, thanks to the private dinner party host: none other than Chris Paul. The occasion, Chris Paul Family Foundation's inaugural "Celebrity Server Dinner," was exactly that—the NBA All-Star and Rockets point-guard enlisted 11 friends, Harden included, to don crisp white uniforms and work the floor.
The celebrity waitstaff, accompanied and gently encouraged by actual Mastro's servers, worked earnestly to accommodate more than 200 dinner guests with four-course meals. Paul and Harden were joined by fellow Rockets Carmelo Anthony, Clint Capela, Gary Clark, Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Michael Carter-Williams, plus Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel, retired Texans' left guard Wade Smith, and Grammy-winning gospel artist Yolanda Adams.
Watching the 7-foot Hartenstein scribble down entree orders or Harden carefully top off a glass of cabernet was fabulously endearing. Each server made the rounds and, between dropping off bread baskets, good-naturedly paused for photos with seemingly every adoring diner. Some, of course, were better known to the athletes, like Rockets CEO Tad Brown, Texans president Jamey Rootes, and two-time Hall of Famer and 1995 NBA Champ Clyde Drexler. Even the most hesitant sports fan could spot familiar faces in the VIP crowd, though, like Mayor Sylvester Turner or Melo's celebrity wife, La La Anthony. Entertainment Tonight's Kevin Frazier served as the evening's host, and acclaimed musician Lee England Jr., dubbed "the Michael Jordan of violin," thrilled the crowd with his trademark classical covers of hip-hop and R&B arrangements.
And while most guests undoubtedly came for the servers, the food itself merits kudos—especially our filet, creamed corn, lobster mashed potatoes, and famous warm butter cake heaped with homemade whipped cream.
The upscale dinner was actually a fundraiser to benefit two local charities close to Paul's heart: the Urban Enrichment Institute, a youth leadership and development program for at-risk males ages 12-19 in the Fifth Ward, and The Way Home, a collaborative coalition to end homelessness.
Houston is flush with philanthropic events not dissimilar to this one, but when Paul and his father took the mic between courses to express their support and announce their Foundation's $25,000 donation to each charity, no one in the room could deny their hearts were truly in it.
"Everybody sees people like me, James, and Melo, and they think that we just woke up one day and we could play basketball. We had to have people that believed in us," Paul said. "To be a black man in this world—these programs are key and vital to their success ... these kids here need to know that somebody cares about them and somebody believes in them."
A visibly excited group of UEI youth joined Paul at the mic as he applauded them and their community mentors. "I know people want to buy our jerseys and buy our shoes," he said, "but the real heroes are the people who are with these kids day in and day out."
And to that, we all raised a glass.