Photo credit: Patrick Smith/Getty

You may have heard that Phil Jackson referred to LeBron James’s inner circle as a “posse” yesterday, and that one member of said inner circle, LeBron’s childhood friend and business partner Maverick Carter, took offense to that by claiming that Jackson’s use of “posse” was racially coded. Now LeBron himself has weighed in, and if you thought he’d try to cool the waters here, well, just read on.

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A very tired- and disappointed-sounding LeBron held forth about Jackson’s remarks when asked today, and he made it clear that he agrees with Carter’s interpretation of Jackson’s underlying message:

Probably the most telling of James’s comments on Jackson’s use of the word posse, from ESPN:

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“To use that label, and if you go and read the definition of what the word ‘posse’ is, it’s not what I’ve built over my career,” James said. “It’s not what I stand for, it’s not what my family stands for. I believe the only reason he used that word is because he sees young African-Americans trying to make a difference.”

James also went as far as to intimate that if Jackson felt comfortable using such apparently loaded language like “posse,” then there was no telling the kinds of words he used behind closed doors:

“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.”

Carmelo Anthony also commented on the topic, backing James and Carter by explaining that he too felt “posse” was an offensive word:

That this has become a full-blown Thing is sort of mind-boggling. On a certain level, it does make some sense: Jackson was 100 percent taking a shot at James with his comments (which, let’s remember, arose in the context of Jackson wondering how Pat Riley’s relationship with Dwyane Wade broke down, and after being prompted with the possibility that it all started when Riley’s and LeBron’s relationship soured, Jackson pointed to the widely-known story that LeBron and Riley butted heads over the level of accommodation from the team that LeBron expected for his family and friends, one example being LeBron and his “posse” wanting to stay in Cleveland overnight when the team’s policy was to fly out of town right after the game), basically calling him an entitled diva who demands to have his way, and it would make sense for LeBron and Carter to be upset by this.

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Still, it’s hard to believe that James’s and Carter’s offense is solely directed at the word “posse.” The word—which Jackson used to describe James’s close circle of friends, many of whom are accomplished business men—was certainly dismissive in context, but it’s hard not to arch an eyebrow when James goes so far as to imply that Jackson using the word “posse” is evidence that he he is in fact using explicitly racist language behind closed doors.

Perhaps the best explanation for all of this, then, is that James’s reaction is the bursting of a bubble that had been swelling for a long time now. James gave a hint of this during his lengthy diatribe against Jackson, in which he mentioned that he’s long been criticized for putting what were then his unproven, inexperienced friends in positions of power. James’s bet on the talent and drive of this inner circle has paid off very well, as the success of Carter’s LRMR marketing agency and Rich Paul’s—another of James’s childhood friends—sports agency, Klutch Sports, attest to. Even those who find James’s decision to latch onto the word “posse” questionable can understand why he’d be angry about having his powerful inner circle dismissed as some kind of unruly band of hangers-ons that just want to break the team’s rules so that they can party.

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Beyond that, it’s also possible that James is simply tired of listening to Phil Jackson condescend to people. This isn’t even the first time Jackson has thrown the word “posse” in James’s face, and much of his reputation as basketball’s philosopher king has been built on his ability to talk down to his players. Remember, this is the guy who wanted his players to be more like Mozart than Coltrane. 

Jackson’s smug routine was probably a lot easier for players to swallow when he was winning championships in L.A., but now he’s just a bumbling team president presiding over a directionless Knicks franchise that he insists play in an outdated and ineffective (if it ever had any merit outside the two all-time greats who made it work) offensive system. If all of this is evidence of anything, it’s mostly that nobody wants to listen to what that guy has to say anymore.

[ESPN]