In an interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Phil Jackson answered many questions from the current state of his team, the New York Knicks, to the reasons why key players left his good friend Pat Riley’s Miami Heat organization.
To the latter, Jackson had an interesting choice of words to describe a former Heat star, the special treatment he apparently asked for and the group of people he believes were the cause of it.
Jackson was referring to LeBron James, and the choice word he had for the group of people he surrounds himself and does business with was “posse.”
Via ESPN: “When LeBron was playing with the Heat, they went to Cleveland and he wanted to spend the night. They don’t do overnights. Teams just don’t. So now (coach Erik) Spoelstra has to text Riley and say, ‘What do I do in this situation?’ And Pat, who has iron-fist rules, answers, ‘You are on the plane, you are with this team.’ You can’t hold up the whole team because you and your mom and your posse want to spend an extra night in Cleveland.”
There are two informal definitions of the word “posse.” One of which is a group of people who have a common characteristic, occupation, or purpose. The other informal meaning of the word is a group of people who socialize together, especially to go to clubs or raves.
According to the context of how Jackson used the word, it would seem likely that he meant the latter of the two definitions. Jackson’s comments were based on the fact that he had heard that LeBron likes special treatment, things like staying the night “because you and your mom and your posse want to spend an extra night in Cleveland.” This would suggest that Jackson feels negatively about these kind of things because he prefaced that statement by saying that teams don’t stay anywhere overnight.
This choice of a word has caused a lot of controversy as many athletes, including James, have taken offense to what was said and tend to think that he was referring to the latter definition as well.
Kevin Durant recently addressed the issue as well taking offense to it.
Via ESPN: “I see why LeBron took offense to it,” Durant told ESPN. “He doesn’t just work on the basketball court; he puts his work in [off of it as well]. He’s trying to set himself, his kids, his kid’s kids up forever. So doing it for 10-plus years, to not associate what he’s done with being an empire, I understand why he took offense to it.”
James Harden of the Houston Rockets expressed the same sentiments.
Via ESPN: “I’m standing with LeBron,” Harden said Sunday. “His friends or his business partners are not a posse. They work extremely hard for what they have, my friends as well. He stands up for what he believes in, and I’m in the same situation.”
“I don’t know what he meant, but that word wasn’t the right word,” Harden said. “So obviously you have friends who work extremely hard to run their business and be businessmen. That’s what they are, they’re businessmen.”
Jackson is a 71-year-old man who has had enormous success in the basketball realm that cannot be questioned. Due to his age, people are making the excuse that he is just behind the times, and that’s the type of terminology he is used to using.
This excuse is flawed because as much as we may praise Jackson for his accomplishments and his intelligence, we also have to address when he is wrong.
Jackson is smart enough to know that using posse has traditionally had racial connotations. He’s been around, played with, and coached many black athletes, and knows that there are certain words and zones that you just don’t enter it, especially in today’s society.
What makes this word choice worse is the fact that this isn’t the first time he’s used it.
In his 2004 book, “The Last Season: A Team in Search of it’s Soul” Jackson also referred to James and called his group of friends a posse once again.
“Yet as talented as (LeBron James) definitely appears to be, I don’t believe any nineteen-year-old should be playing in the NBA. These young men grow so dependent on their posses, who fetch their cars and their girls, that they can’t possibly develop into mature, self-sufficient human beings. One day, I’m convinced, we’ll find out the true extent of the psychological damage that’s been caused.”
Now, in regards to the book, Jackson may have a point as a whole, as he refers to his feelings on why teenagers typically struggle with newfound fame and money. It’s a sentiment that most people share when too much comes too fast for young people.
The use of the word still rings bells however, as you’re talking about a black athlete who has set the bar for how to conduct yourself on and off the court for any athlete no matter what race they are.
To refer to LeBron’s group of friends as a posse is totally demeaning them and what they have accomplished.
Maverick Carter is James’ longtime friend and business partner. Not only has he been responsible for helping James manage and successfully invest the billions of dollars he has earned, but he’s also been responsible for taking his own career to the next level as well with his sports and brand management company LRMR, his position as CEO of Springhill Entertainment who just signed a content deal with Warner Brothers, and along with James, is the co-founder of Uninterrupted.
Carter is responsible for negotiating James’ $1 Billion lifetime Nike deal, as well as helping to put Beats by Dre Music in position to prosper in its early stages. He is a mainstay in the business world who is creating numerous lanes for James and all of his clients to prosper with multiple streams of income, far from just being someone in a posse.
Rich Paul is James’ agent and also a longtime friend who started out with James from day one.
Paul has his own agency called Klutch Sports Group that in addition to James, has big name clients like John Wall, Ben Simmons, and Eric Bledsoe. Again, someone who is far from being a member of a posse.
What Phil Jackson did by putting posse in the same sentence with LeBron, Carter, and Paul is discredit and downgrade everything that they have worked for — and that’s why it is a problem.
Nobody is accusing Jackson of being racist; we know his history of being an advocate for the rights of black athletes. What is happening here is that he is being correctly called out for a poor choice of words in reference to one of the most successful athletes of all time and the people that helped him get there through great friendship, great loyalty, and great business decisions.
He should and very well could have used a different set of words; posse was clearly the wrong one.
What do you make of Phil Jackson’s comments? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3.