Sports

Phil Jackson ‘could’ regret calling LeBron’s friends a ‘posse,’ but he doesn’t

Knicks president Phil Jackson is being cryptic again. (AP)

Three weeks after referring to LeBron James’ friends and business partners as his “posse,” sparking a backlash from the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar over what he took as the disrespectful use of racially coded language, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson offered his first public comments on the matter during a television interview aired Tuesday. He didn’t exactly fall all over himself trying to make amends.

Jackson joined the CBS Network show “We Need to Talk,” and prompted by panelist and Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie to discuss the LeBron issue ahead of Wednesday’s nationally televised showdown between the Cavs and the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, talk he did:

“That’s a topic I’m not going to discuss because one, we are not supposed to discuss other teams’ players in this position that I have here. So I violated one of the tenets of our thing. […]

“The obvious thing is, the word itself carries connotation. And I just don’t understand that, that part of it — the word. So I guess word choice could be something I could regret. But talking about other teams’ players, that’s out of the box.”

For what it’s worth, it’s good to hear that Jackson now understands that it’s improper for team executives to publicly discuss players who are under contract with other teams. Sure, you’d think he might have absorbed that at some previous point during the nearly 50 years he’s been involved in the NBA as a player, coach or team president. But hey, better late than never, right?

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What’s less great, though, is Jackson continuing to say that he just doesn’t understand the “connotation” that came with the words he chose to use in recounting a LeBron story during a November interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan:

It had to hurt [the Miami Heat] when they lost LeBron. That was definitely a slap in the face. But there were a lot of little things that came out of that. 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.

I always thought Pat had this really nice vibe with his guys. But something happened there where it broke down. I do know LeBron likes special treatment. He needs things his way.

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For what it’s worth, Spoelstra’s take on the matter prior to the Knicks’ Tuesday night victory over the Heat, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel: “I honestly just think [Phil] gets bored and likes to throw stuff out there and get everybody all fired up.” Sounds about right.

It’s worth noting, as many did after Jackson’s remarks were published, that “LeBron” and “posse” had collided in a Zen Master context once before — in a passage on LeBron in Jackson’s 2004 book, “The Last Season.”

(Here’s where we remind you that James recently won his second Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award, which seems like a decent indication that he’s doing OK on the maturity and adulthood front.)

After the publication of the ESPN interview, James’ former high school basketball teammate and longtime business partner, Maverick Carter, called Phil on the carpet over his condescending turn of phrase.

“I don’t care that he talks about LeBron,” Carter told ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin. “He could say he’s not that good or the greatest in the world as a basketball player. I wouldn’t care. It’s the word ‘posse’ and the characterization I take offense to. If he would have said LeBron and his agent, LeBron and his business partners or LeBron and his friends, that’s one thing. Yet because you’re young and black he can use that word. We’re grown men.”

It’d be understandable enough for Carter, James, Rich Paul and Randy Mims — the principals in LRMR, the management company they co-founded in 2006 to guide LeBron’s off-court business ventures — to consider “posse” a slight as an intimation that the members of James’ inner circle are mere moochers rather than contributors to James’ status as one of the sporting world’s greatest off-court success stories. They’ve done plenty, with Carter negotiating the lifetime Nike contract that could reportedly pay James upward of $1 billion and Paul now an agent in his own right, representing more than a dozen NBA players and helping architect the year-by-year deals that both gave James maximum control over his situation in Cleveland and made him the NBA’s highest-paid player.

As James noted one day after the remarks went public, though, the racial component of the “posse” reference was worth being ticked off about, too:

“It just sucks that now at this point having one of the biggest businesses you can have both on and off the floor, having a certified agent in Rich Paul, having a certified business partner in Maverick Carter, that’s done so many great business, that the title for young African-Americans is the word ‘posse.’”

“We see the success that we have but then there is always someone that lets you know still how far we still have to go as African-Americans and I don’t believe that Phil Jackson would have used that term if he was doing business with someone else and working with another team or if he was working with anybody in sports that was owning a team that wasn’t African-American and had a group of guys around them that didn’t agree with what they did, I don’t think he would have called them a posse.” […]

“It’s not surprising,” James said. “If [Jackson] says it out to the media, you can only imagine what he says when the camera is not on him or the headset or whatever you guys record on. Just got a lot more work to do.”

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If Phil didn’t understand that after Carter and James laid it out, then maybe listening to Carmelo Anthony — his All-Star forward, and one of James’ best friends — would help:

“I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist or an educated person to understand what that means to us.” […]

“There’s different words that different people use in different ways. To some people, the word ‘posse’ might not mean anything. It might just be a word. To some other people, it could be a derogatory statement. It all depends on who you mention it to, who you’re talking about,” Anthony said.

“In this sense, he was talking about five black men. And do I think he meant it in any kind of way? I really don’t know. I don’t think he did. I would hope that he didn’t. Sometimes Phil just say things, and he say the first thing that come to mind. And he’s probably in his office right now regretting it.”

Or … y’know … not.

Save for a lone comment-free retweet of a tweet by his longtime advisor and Knicks vice president of player personnel Clarence Gaines Jr. trumpeting the Posse Foundation as “a worthy & positive organization,” Jackson hadn’t said anything about the matter until Tuesday’s TV appearance, during which he made it clear that while he could potentially regret his word choice, he didn’t.

Given the chance to offer even a formulaic statement of contrition, Jackson just doubled down, saying he didn’t understand what the issue was and that he didn’t think there was any need for him to talk the matter over with James.

“No, it’s water under the bridge,” he told Leslie. “I don’t think there was anybody hurt or harmed in this situation. I think LeBron’s friend obviously had an issue with it. So we just let it go. It’s not enough to talk about it.”

Not that James would be down for the tête–à–tête anyway: Given Phil’s seeming insistence on continuing to miss this particular point, it’s not hard to understand why.

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