Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden has a simple explanation for why he sported a pro-police face mask amid a national conversation over police brutality – he liked the way it looked.
“Honestly, I wasn’t trying to make a political statement,” the 8-time All-Star said. “I wore it because it covered my face, my beard.”
He later added, “I thought it looked cool, that was it.”
Harden took heat on social media on Friday for sporting a mask with the thin blue line, a symbol that represents the Blue Lives Matter non-profit organization, a police advocacy group.
Harden had joined the rest of his teammates at the NBA’s “bubble” in Orlando on Tuesday, four days after the rest of the team, and was featured in a tweet from the NBA and Rockets accounts showing a close-up of the mask he wore upon arrival.
While the photos showed Harden doing his part to curb the spread of coronavirus, many slammed the mask as it represents group of police and their supporters created in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
CNN reached out to Harden and the Rockets for comment.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25, several NBA players have demanded racial justice.
In June, Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard said in a statement he believes the NBA and other forms of entertainment are an unneeded distraction from important issues facing the nation and the Black community right now. At the beginning of the month, San Antonio Spurs player Patty Mills pledged to donate his entire NBA salary for the remainder of the season to organizations tackling racial inequality.
Harden spoke with the media on Thursday from Orlando and said though he wasn’t in Houston during Floyd’s funeral service, he thought “the way the city rallied was amazing.”
“I think the world saw it,” he said. “How so many people could come together so close, obviously it was for a tragic reason but the marching and everything we’re standing for is very powerful.”
Earlier on Friday, singer-songwriter Trey Songz retweeted the NBA’s photo saying, “This certified clown s***. I’ll say it for everybody who scared to.”
But Rapper Young Thug defended Harden on Twitter. “Just so u know James Harden is my brada,” he wrote. “Btw he don’t have internet so he obviously don’t know what’s right or wrong if he posted something that’s against US”
The Rockets’ first exhibition game is on July 24. The 2019-2020 NBA season will resume July 30 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. The season was suspended on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic.