UPDATED: 4:45 p.m. EST –
After being photographed wearing a pro-police face covering, James Harden has spoken out:
“Honestly, I wasn’t trying to make a political statement,” Harden said Friday before the Rockets’ practice, according to ESPN. “I honestly wore it just because it covered my whole face and my beard. It’s pretty simple.”
The Rockets tweeted the photo on Thursday evening, writing “Mask Up” along with the photo of Harden wearing a “Thin Blue Line” mask, which critics describe as not only being pro-police, but also white supremacist and oppressive to Black Lives Matter, according to Politico. The Punisher skull, which was apart of Harden’s mask, has also been associated with far-right groups, despite the creator of the character denouncing the association.
The NBA also tweeted out Harden wearing the mask with the caption, “The Masked Beard!”
One could argue that the Rockets and the NBA were promoting mask safety in an era where COVID-19 is still gravely impacting communities. There’s the possibility that neither Harden, The Rockets nor the NBA knew the meaning behind his mask. However, considering their massive followings and the current national discussions around police violence, it’s hard for some fans to believe that there isn’t some kind of awareness. Neither party involved has released a statement as of Friday morning.
Some folks on Twitter weren’t taking any excuses. “It appears that @JHarden13, the @HoustonRockets, and the @NBA are unified in their support of fascist, white supremacist iconography,” one user tweeted. “They deserve the dragging they’re receiving. Ignorance doesn’t excuse this shit.”
Even singer Trey Songz slammed the Rockets’ post, tweeting, “This certified clown shit. I’ll say it for everybody who scared to. FOH.”
“The way the city just like rallied, it was amazing. I think the world saw it,” he said earlier on Thursday. “The march and everything we’re standing for is very powerful.”
Rapper Young Thug also defended Harden by suggesting that the Rockets star didn’t know the meaning behind the Thin Blue Line imagery. “He don’t have internet so he obviously don’t know what’s right or wrong if he posted something that’s against US,” Young Thug tweeted. Many people were amused by his “he don’t have internet” line, considering Harden is present on Twitter and Facebook.
Various NBA players have been vocal about their support for Black Lives Matter and even the NBA will reportedly paint “Black Lives Matter” on the courts at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, according to The Washington Post. The NBA will also allow players to wear social justice messages in place of their names on their jerseys.
Unlike fellow players like LeBron James, Harden has rarely been vocal about politics, however. When asked on Thursday whether he’d rock a message on his jersey, Harden told ESPN’s Marc J. Spears, “I’m in the process of figuring out if I’m going to put a message on my back and other ways to deliver my (social justice) message.”
Harden and the Rockets are set to play their first game on July 31 in Florida after the season was stifled because of the coronavirus pandemic.