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Rockets: Does James Harden deserve a pass for mask gaffe?

By Anthony Duckett
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

As Houston Rockets superstar James Harden found himself immersed in scrutiny on Thursday night, does he deserve a pass?

The Houston Rockets entered Thursday with excitement, as franchise cornerstone James Harden made his debut, participating in his first practice with the team. Harden appeared to be in great conditioning and drew praise from Ben McLemore and Mike D’Antoni afterwards.

But unfortunately for Harden, it didn’t take long for controversy to find him, as Harden was later spotted wearing a Punisher mask that’s been interpreted as a ‘Blue Lives Matter’ mask.

NBA Twitter is going crazy after James Harden was spotted wearing a Thin Blue Line Mask

— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) July 17, 2020

Harden’s mask instantly became one of the most widely-discussed topics on social media, and understandably so. Considering the current climate of having heightened awareness on social injustices across the country (aka being woke), now isn’t the time for Harden, or any player, to get immersed in such an incident.

Does Houston Rockets’ Harden deserve a pass for his mask blunder?

But upon a deeper analysis, does Harden deserve a pass? For starters, it’s important to note that Harden has never been the type of player to vocalize social issues, as he wasn’t one of the voices we heard following the tragic and all-too-early deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

That’s not to be mistaken for him having a stance against those who have publicly demanded justice for Floyd and Taylor (and many others), but he’s never been the type to speak out on social issues. So why exactly would he start now, within his first 24 hours in the bubble and over 90 days after the unexpected deaths of both?

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We also can’t ignore the comments Harden made upon being asked about his thoughts on Houston’s response to the George Floyd tragedy, as thousands took the streets to protest, including Houston Police Department chief Art Acevedo.

“The way the city rallied, it was amazing. I think the world saw it. How so many people can come together so close. Obviously it was for a tragic reason, but the marching and everything we’re standing for is very powerful.”

As for the assumption that Harden supports the Blue Lives Matter movement, he’s never expressed these specific views, which we certainly would have heard by now if he was a staunch supporter, like he was instantly made out to be on social media. We also must note the use of the word “we” in this quote, as he uses that word to describe those who are marching and standing for justice for those whose’ lives were ended far too early.

As for this particular mask, this was incredibly bad timing for Harden to don such a mask. There were even players across the league that felt uneasy about participating in the resumption of the season, as they feared being a distraction from the social issues plaguing the country.

It would have been much easier and wiser for Harden to simply grab a mask with a Houston Rockets logo, and none of this would even be a topic of discussion. Harden would likely make that decision if he could do it over again, considering the slander he received almost instantly.

What we know about Harden is that he’s developed a fascination for wearing fashionable attire, as we’ve seen him don a firefighter jacket, and even a green suit representing the Dr. Seuss fictional character “The Grinch”. We also shouldn’t forget about the eye-popping suit that Harden wore to the 2018 NBA awards, in which he took home his first ever MVP award.

In other words, Harden is known for rocking things that he deems to be cool, which is likely what he was doing here with the Punisher mask. This seems evident considering how Harden was posing in the mask, which isn’t something he would do about such a grave situation.

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At some point we have to note that this was simply a gaffe and a blunder with incredibly awful timing. Harden is allowed to make a mistake, even if this particular one reflected a lack of social awareness and a supreme level of ignorance.