The Houston Rockets posted a photo to its social media accounts Thursday of star player James Harden wearing a "thin blue line" mask, and the reaction was swift.
"Mask Up," reads the photo caption.
The "thin blue line" flag is a sign of support for law enforcement that has amid Black Lives Matter protests come to signal opposition to the racial justice movement and support for white supremacy. The phrase can be traced back to an 1854 British battle formation, a “thin red line,” during the Crimean War, according to The Marshall Project.
Matthew Cherry, a Black filmmaker and Academy Award winner, was among those to respond to the team's tweet. Cherry tweeted a GIF of Michael Jordan looking perplexed.
Singer Trey Songz, who is also Black, weighed in too, tweeting an image of a raccoon and saying: "This certified clown sh--. I'll say it for everybody who scared to. FOH." (FOH is slang for f--- outta here.)
Harden said Friday that he was not trying to make a political statement and he was unaware of what the mask represented.
"I felt like it was just something to cover my whole face and my beard," he said, adding that face coverings he has worn previously have not.
Harden told reporters that, as he said Thursday, he was in the process of finding a way to show his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, whether it was with his jersey name or by other means.
Harden, who is Black, had earlier Thursday praised protests spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, calling them "amazing."
"I think the world saw it," Harden told reporters. "You know, how so many people could come together so close. Obviously, it was for a tragic reason. But you know, the marching and everything that we're standing for is very powerful."
Unlike some other star NBA players, such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry, Harden, the league's scoring leader, has not been notably vocal about political or social justice issues.
Rapper Young Thug, a friend of Harden's, tweeted that the NBA player did not know the connotations carried by "thin blue line."
"Just so u know James harden is my brada...," he tweeted, "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..."
Some others on social media seemed to see Harden's wearing the mask as a sign of support for police and posted their gratitude with hashtags #bluelivesmatter and #alllivesmatter. The photo was liked more than 14,000 times on Twitter, where Harden's name was trending Friday morning, and more than 85,000 times on Instagram.