If Phil Jackson Was Given a Mulligan, Would He Avoid Using the Term ‘Posse’ to Describe LeBron’s Business Partners?

Article from the NY Times. My comments in block quotes.

Courtesy of the NY Times

Courtesy of the NY Times

Phil Jackson’s description of LeBron James’s business partners as his “posse” in an interview published by ESPN on Monday drew an angry response from James, who took offense at the racial connotation of the word.

The dispute between Jackson, the Knicks’ president, and James, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers and is one of the N.B.A.’s most visible players, also left Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony in the uncomfortable position of having to answer questions about a sudden feud involving one of his bosses and one of his good friends.

The ESPN interview was a wide-ranging Q. and A. in which Jackson talked about the state of the Knicks, the criticism of his management of the team, and his relationship with Anthony. But James took exception with Jackson’s description of the group of friends who travel and work with him as his “posse.”

James and Maverick Carter, his close friend and business partner, both took offense at Jackson’s use of the word. Carter told ESPN.com he was bothered because of the idea that Jackson said it because James and his friends are “young and black, he can use that word.” James said he had lost respect for Jackson as a result of the comments.

I get the fact that LeBron is upset with the word usage Phil Jackson used. I believe if Phil was given a mulligan, he might choose a different term to describe James’s business partners. At the same time, did LeBron overreact? Let’s assume that Phil was insensitive using the term ‘posse’ to describe James’s business partners. Let’s also assume that Phil didn’t mean to offend LBJ. The article says LeBron has lost respect for Phil, is that an overreaction? Perhaps, although with the change in political winds occurring in November some may not consider it a significant overreaction. Perhaps Phil should reach out to LeBron and smooth over this relationship. These two individuals need to realize with social media comments, texts, and emails, there are many communication channels subject to misinterpretation.

“We see the success that we have, but then there is always someone that lets you know how far we still have to go as African-Americans,” James told reporters in Cleveland. “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. But it just shows how far we have to go. But it won’t stop us from doing what we need to do as a group.”

Why is Phil Jackson getting involved in these things anyway? Is he bored or lacks passion for his job? Is this the Knicks organization trying to gain a competitive advantage over the Cavaliers? I hardly think that’s the case. Why would he even say that about LBJ and his close business associates? Would he have said that about Michael Jordan (MJ) who helped earn Phil 6 championships while in Chicago? As LBJ stated, I don’t think Phil would have said a group of white business men surrounding a successful white NBA player as having a posse? I’m wondering if Phil refers to while players as having an entourage but black players have a posse.

Plus, if he had used the term ‘posse’ and then proceeded to said it’s a group of successful businessmen who work for LBJ and helped build a powerful sports marketing company, that context may be less subject to interpretation.

In the ESPN interview, Jackson, responding to a question about James’s decision to leave the Miami Heat, and whether he could imagine Magic Johnson leaving Pat Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers or Michael Jordan leaving Jackson and the Chicago Bulls, turned his response back around to James.

“When LeBron was playing with the Heat, they went to Cleveland and he wanted to spend the night,” Jackson told ESPN.com. “They don’t do overnights. Teams just don’t. So now Spoelstra” — a reference to the Heat 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.”

So Phil is suggesting LeBron got or gets preferential treatment because he’s a superstar and that might cause some friction or animosity with the team. Does Phil have a short memory? While Phil was coaching the Bulls and MJ, did MJ ever get any preferential treatment? Did MJ use the “superstar” label to push the boundaries? Does Phil really think that MJ’s teammates would have taken offense to some of the special treatment bestowed on MJ? Or did they realize superstars often get superstar treatment?

The Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, right, with James, a good friend. Anthony said that he considered “posse” a loaded term and that he would not want his group of friends to be referred to that way. Credit Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Jackson did not respond to James’s remarks Tuesday; he left Knicks practice without speaking to members of the news media and did not respond to an email.

While posse is defined as a group of friends or associates, Keith Gilyard, a professor of English and African-American studies at Penn State, said he could understand why James took offense. The cultural definition of the word has shifted toward defining drug cartels or, in cultural terms, the group of hangers-on that surround a celebrity.

Look, do I think Phil is a racist? No. Do I think he’s arrogant and self-righteous and most likely will not apologize for his poor word choice? Yes, I don’t think an apology is forthcoming. Do I think he used the wrong word in the wrong context? Yes.

“What we’re talking about is a rhetorical moment, and one of the things that’s interesting about rhetoric is sort of the study of who can say what to whom and under what conditions — or can say what about whom and under what conditions,” Gilyard said. “The word in and of itself is never neutral. It never means the same in all contexts.”

And when the word is used publicly, as by Jackson, instead of in a private conversation, its connotation changes, Gilyard said.

Courtesy of the NY Times

Courtesy of the NY Times

“When you have an official or executive that uses that language that makes its way into mainstream circulation, it has a different meaning,” he added. “Meaning shifts depending on contexts.”

“Do I think he meant it any kind of way?” Anthony said. “I really don’t know. I don’t think he did. I would hope that he didn’t.

“Sometimes Phil just says things and he says the first thing that comes to mind and then probably is in his office right now regretting it. I don’t know. When it comes to Phil, you just never know what’s going to be said, what’s coming out. It depends on who’s listening. People take it the right way or people take it the wrong way. You just never know when it comes to Phil.

Again, why is the President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks getting involved in commenting on LBJ and his business partners? Last I checked, the Knicks need a lot of work to become competitive in NBA’s East Conference. Is Phil jealous of LeBron? I don’t think Phil would spend anytime or thoughts on just anyone. He’s targeting someone who’s a tremendous basketball player — arguably in the top 5 of all time. The best end to this chapter would be the President of Basketball Operations for the NY Knicks to call LeBron and state he was insensitive in his word choice when describing LeBron’s business associates. I’m holding my breath…

Kevin Schwarm

I have over 25 years of professional experience in business, information technology (IT), and customer service. Industry experience in retail, medical insurance, higher education, non-profit, financial services, and property and casualty insurance. Customer focused professional interested in providing value (save time, money and aggravation) by evaluating and analyzing information, services and products with a unique perspective.