Phil Jackson told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan in a story published Monday that he doesn’t care whether the New York Knicks play the triangle offense, so long as they play a discernible and successful “system of basketball.” That wasn’t all he said that raised eyebrows.
In a wide-ranging interview that also saw the 11-time NBA champion coach and current Knicks team president say he hadn’t voted in a U.S. presidential election since 1980, call Mike Conley’s $30 million-a-year free-agent contract with the Memphis Grizzlies “almost insane,” and say he included an opt-out clause after this season as a hedge against having to stay in New York in the event of a lockout, Jackson also said he found this summer’s divorce between Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade “surprising” … and, in the process, dragged LeBron James into the fray:
JM: You, [Gregg] Popovich and Pat Riley are the most decorated coaches of your generation. What separates Riley?
PJ: Pat has a terrific sense of what he wants to do. Now that I’m president, I have to read all this stuff about the league. Usually it’s ‘delete, delete, delete.’ But I noticed there was something about D-Wade and Pat’s communication breaking down the other day. I wondered about that. I found it surprising.
JM: It all started when LeBron left, right? Could you have ever imagined Earvin Johnson leaving Riley, or Michael Jordan leaving you?
PJ: It had to hurt 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.
The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, three-time champion and Cleveland Cavaliers superstar made it clear Tuesday morning that he didn’t much care for Jackson using the term “posse” to describe his inner circle:
LeBron on Phil Jackson: "I had nothing but respect for him as a coach …"
Q: "Had respect?"
Q: "Until now?"
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) November 15, 2016
LeBron James says he’s lost his respect for Phil Jackson, and had some more strong words for him. pic.twitter.com/n7vZXenSwC
— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) November 15, 2016
James spoke at some length on the topic at the Cavs’ Tuesday shootaround, according to Chris Fedor of cleveland.com:
“I’ve been in the league for 14 years and from the beginning, two years in, I felt like I wanted to put my guys in positions of power, five of those guys an opportunity to better themselves and in the beginning we were highly criticized and I was highly criticized about what I wanted to do to help some guys around me become very successful in business,” James said. “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.”
ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin has more from James:
“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. I’ve put together a great team, I’ve empowered some guys since I was a kid and we’ve all grown together and become one of the people that try to model after, so we’re not going to let Phil Jackson’s comments stop us from doing what we need to do. It just gives us extra motivation. But it’s still sad, though, to see that people at the top always want to try to put guys in power down.” […]
“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.” […]
“I’ve tried to put my guys in position to where they can walk in a meeting and go places and they don’t need me because they got to a point where they’ve done their homework, they’ve studied on what they want to do and they can hold a meeting without me because of the respect that they have and the knowledge they have. That’s just 12 years of hard work and dedication that we put to each other. I know Phil’s in a position of power in our sport, but to criticize me and my guys over that is nonsense. But whatever. It’s going to be a story and that’s cool.”
James’ comments came after Carter, his former high school basketball teammate and longtime business partner, spoke up about the matter on Monday night:
— Maverick Carter (@mavcarter) November 14, 2016
Let me be clear I'm not saying @PhilJackson11 is racist,, I'm calling out his disrespectful language
— Maverick Carter (@mavcarter) November 15, 2016
[Follow Dunks Don’t Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
Carter expounded on his tweets, and his issue with Jackson’s “coded language,” in a conversation with McMenamin:
“I don’t care that he talks about LeBron,” Maverick Carter told ESPN.com. “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.” […]
As for Jackson’s claim of “special treatment” for James, the Heat did stay over in Cleveland following their game against the Cavaliers once while James was a member of the Miami franchise [in] order to go, as a team, to his house for Thanksgiving dinner the next day.
Some might view Carter’s response as a reach, believing that Jackson wasn’t referring to James’ associates as a posse in the sense of, like, Melvin Van Peebles’ “Posse.” But the phrasing definitely hit my ear weird when I read it, too. For one thing, it’s kind of awkward for the 71-year-old Zen Master to be employing “Martin”-era slang. (Never forget that, during the press conference to introduce Derek Fisher as the Knicks’ head coach, Jackson proclaimed Fisher “hip-hop ready to get going with this group of guys in their language.”)
Beyond that, though, it makes sense that Carter might take offense to “posse” as an intimation that he and the other members of James’ inner circle are hangers-on rather than businessmen in their own right and contributors to James’ status as one of the sporting world’s greatest off-court success stories.
Carter’s one of the principals in LRMR, the management company he co-founded with friends James, Rich Paul and Randy Mims — the “Four Horsemen” from the St. Vincent-St. Mary days — in 2006 to guide LeBron’s business ventures off the court. He and James developed and sold the Starz show “Survivor’s Remorse,” and they co-founded Spring Hill Entertainment, the production company that last summer inked a deal with Warner Bros. that put the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar in motion on “plans for projects in television, film and original digital content,” including an NBC game show called “The Wall” hosted by Chris Hardwick that’s set to premiere in January.
Carter’s the CEO of Uninterrupted, a digital platform for first-person athlete stories he and James created with Bleacher Report. He negotiated the lifetime contract with Nike that could reportedly pay James upward of $1 billion when all’s said and done. Paul went from James’ friend and a young agent at Creative Artists Agency to an agent in his own right and head of his own firm, Klutch Sports Group. He now represents more than a dozen NBA players, including fellow Cavaliers Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith, both of whom got major paydays from the Cavs in their last negotiations, All-Star point guard John Wall, and 2016 No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons. Mims, according to McMenamin, “is the executive administrator of player programs and logistics for the Cavs.”
More than a decade ago, when James decided to break camp with former representative Aaron Goodwin in favor of handing his business interests over to his friends, many scoffed at the decision, comparing the 30-and-under braintrust to the cast of “Entourage” and wondering how long it would take for things to go south.
“Being young and black and going into a business where you are trying to establish position and where you are able to make business decisions with the lack of what people would call an education, not having a degree … no one wanted to give us a chance,” Rich Paul told Yahoo Sports in June of 2012. “We were able to come through that and learn from a lot of people that we had around us and position ourselves to be, not necessarily just successful economically, but successful from a positioning standpoint to have a bright future. It was a rough situation. But given the opportunity [James] gave all of us, it’s a blessing. It was up to us to cultivate that blessing and move forward.”
Whatever qualms one might have with the way James and his associates have wielded their power within the Cavalier and Heat organizations over the years, though, James’ star has continued to rise, his off-court profile remains the envy of just about every contemporary professional athlete, and the friends to whom he’s entrusted his financial well-being have helped make his dreams of becoming a “global icon” a reality. It seems fair to say they’ve proven themselves, which makes it understandable that Carter would bristle at the negative connotations that come with the term “posse,” however Jackson intended it.
Whether other unintended consequences might come back to bite Jackson here remains to be seen:
The fact LeBron is best friends with Carmelo shouldn't be a problem for Phil Jackson at all. Not at all. What a completely unnecessary mess. https://t.co/MH5UpeH4rd
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) November 15, 2016
LeBron James has lost respect for Phil Jackson. This is not a good look for a team president tasked with attracting top FAs to New York. https://t.co/lXSuniPm9z
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) November 15, 2016
Wow, that blew up in a way that I didn't expect.
— Chris Herring (@Herring_NBA) November 15, 2016
The guess here is that Phil didn’t, either.
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