Rockets' James Harden Explains Why He Wore 'Thin Blue Line' Mask

Houston Rockets star James Harden took some heat after wearing a "Thin Blue Line" mask Thursday. Photos of Harden wearing the mask, a neck gaiter pulled over his face, was published on the Rockets and NBA's social media accounts, which led to some very strong reactions. On Friday morning before the Rockets' practice, Harden revealed why he wore the mask.

"Honestly, I wasn't trying to make a political statement," Harden said via ESPN. "I honestly wore it just because it covered my whole face and my beard. It's pretty simple." The Thin Blue Line is an American flag with a blue line as one of the stripes which shows support for law enforcement. Some have used it to protest against the Black Lives Matter movement. Harden reported to the team five days after they arrived, and Friday was the first time Harden practiced with the team since they moved temporarily to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. And while Harden is in Orlando, he plans to show his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I'm in the process of doing that right now," Harden said when asked if he was going to put a social justice message on the back of his jersey. When it comes to the police, he said "There's people who do their job at a high level and there's BS people in every profession." Harden, 30, is one of the best players in the NBA, winning the MVP award in 2018 and a five-time selection to the All-NBA First Team. He is the reigning two-time scoring champion and he also has an Olympic gold medal, helping the U.S. team come in first place at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Harden is not the only athlete to be criticized for his mask. In May, Minnesota Twins outfielder Max Kepler apologized for wearing a Blue Lives Matter mask shortly after the death of George Floyd. On social media, Kepler said: "Earlier, I posted a photo of me in a mask that was sent to me by a company, to wear during the pandemic. I had no idea that the mask had any underlying inferences — I simply thought it looked good. After I was informed, I immediately took down the post. " He then went on to say that he's "truly sorry for the hurt and pain my actions have caused, especially now."