What are the details?
Harden was reportedly joining his teammates in the NBA "bubble" at Walt Disney World this week when the photo was taken and subsequently posted to social media accounts run by the league and his team.
Mask Up 📸 @NBA https://t.co/PFsIuJybYb— Houston Rockets (@Houston Rockets) 1594948149.0
The Masked Beard! #WholeNewGame https://t.co/DJrp23M5TL— NBA (@NBA) 1594945797.0
In response to the post, rapper Trey Songz tweeted, "this certified clown s**t. I'll say it for everybody who scared to. [F**k off haters]"
Another Twitter user said, "for the love of GOD tell me James Harden isn't wearing a mask called 'the blue patriot.'" That mask displays the comic book hero "The Punisher," which is an image allegedly used by Blue Lives Matter protesters.
"His own teammates are gonna foul him now," said another user on Twitter, while others posted images of Harden getting struck in the head by former Los Angeles Laker Metta World Peace, as if to say he deserved it.
It wasn't a political statement
ESPN reported Friday afternoon that Harden did not intend to make a political statement with the mask and was unaware of the message it displayed.
"Honestly, I wasn't trying to make a political statement," Harden said before practice. "I honestly wore it just because it covered my whole face and my beard. It's pretty simple."
In regard to his thoughts on police, Harden added: "There's people who do their job at a high level and there's BS people in every profession."
The two-time NBA scoring champion had also expressed support for the George Floyd protests recently. Floyd was killed while in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, and his funeral was held in Houston.
"The way the city rallied, it was amazing," Harden said to reporters on Thursday. "I think the world saw it. How so many people could come together ... obviously it was for a tragic reason. The marching and everything we're standing for is very powerful."
Rapper Young Thug had come to Harden's defense originally, rightly suggesting that he didn't know what he was wearing.
"Just so u know James harden is my brada... 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 rapper tweeted.
The NBA has been very supportive of players expressing support for Black Lives Matter causes, approving a list of customized messages players will be allowed to wear on jerseys as the league returns to action July 30 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. The Rockets' first exhibition game is on July 24.