Houston Rockets guard James Harden said he merely wanted to cover his face for COVID-19 protection, not make a statement on the hot button issue of police and community relations.
Backlash for Harden began on Thursday, July 16, after he arrived at the NBA’s “bubble” location at Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida, where the NBA will soon resume play.
Harden arrived in Orlando days after his Rockets teammates got there and said it was due to having “family issues.”
A camera caught the 6-foot-5 shooting guard walking up to what looked like his living quarters, and he was seen wearing a face mask designed like a Thin Blue Line flag.
The flag is used to symbolize support for the police. It’s also been adopted by white supremacists and used to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement.
Harden wearing the mask comes as the Thin Blue Line flag has fallen under increased scrutiny since the slaying of George Floyd, the Black man whose caught-on-camera agonizing death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day sparked a paroxysm of nationwide protests against racial injustice.
In Middletown, Connecticut, for example, the police chief removed a Thin Blue Line and “Blue Lives Matter” flag from his department in June, after people protested for Floyd in that state.
Besides being seen with the much-talked about mask upon arriving in Florida, the NBA and Rockets tweeted a photo of Harden wearing it as he sat in a chair.
“Is that a blue lives matter stripe? Dislike Harden even more now,” someone tweeted on Thursday, July 16.
“This certified clown s–t. I’ll say it for everybody who scared to,” another person tweeted the following day, which was then retweeted by singer Trey Songz.
Harden responded to the chatter on Friday and said besides choosing his mask for protection, he just liked the way it looked.
He also explained that he fully supports Black Lives Matter and will show it in the future.
Earlier this month, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association agreed that players can wear league-approved social justice messages on the back of their jerseys.
“Honestly, I wasn’t trying to make a political statement,” Harden told reporters. “Honestly, wore it just because it covered my whole face, my beard. It’s pretty simple, like, as I clearly talked about yesterday, me finding a way to, whether it’s my jersey name or another way, to show my support for the Black Lives Matter.”
The NBA will resume play on July 30 at Walt Disney Resort in Orlando with 22 teams that have an opportunity to make the playoffs. The league was suspended because of COVID-19 in March after Utah Jazz Player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus.
Rockets point guard Russell Westbrook has also tested positive for COVID-19, which he announced earlier this month, so he has yet to join his team in Orlando.