A breakdown of what, exactly, happened.
Who is Phil Jackson?
Phil Jackson is the real-life version of a character Sean Connery would have played in 1998. He’s a yield sign with sentience and suspenders.
Why is he in the news today?
In an interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Jackson shared his thoughts on LeBron James’s decision to leave the Miami Heat and return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, suggesting that a significant part of LeBron’s choice was his relative lack of autonomy within the Heat’s organization. Basically, LeBron left because he wants to be able to do whatever the fuck he wants to do.
To add context to this point, Jackson relayed a story about the Heat visiting the Cavs, and Lebron wanting to stay in Cleveland an extra day.
“You can’t hold up the whole team because you and your mom and your posse want to spend an extra night in Cleveland.”
Many—including LeBron himself—took offense to Jackson’s use of posse, claiming it’s a racially-coded term used to describe groups of young black men. Especially since, in James’s case, the “posse” Jackson referred to are men like Maverick Carter and Rich Paul—close friends who also happen to be his business partners.
— Maverick Carter (@mavcarter) November 14, 2016
Hmm. So, is Lebron right here? Is posse a racial/racist dog-whistle, and was Jackson wrong to use that word?
Yes and no. And eh.
Yes. Eh. On the “Zero to Thug” spectrum of words used to say “black person” when you can’t just come out and say “black person,” posse is like a 2.85. There is a bit of a racial connotation here—that’s undeniable—but the connotation is actually more condescending. Knowing Phil Jackson, this is basically Peak Phil.
That said, would Jackson have described, I don’t know, Steve Ballmer and his group of confidantes the same way? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. But I do know that it was unnecessarily and intentionally dismissive, which is (some) white people’s default for anything black—black people, black businesses, black publications, black characters on The Walking Dead, etc. Like “Look at those grown black kids over there playing grown up. How cute!”
Lebron appears to be sensitive to that, and this sensitivity does not exist in a vacuum.
Part of the reason why I never quite got into Entourage was that it celebrated and glorified the same type of posses and entourages young black athletes were often criticized for possessing. I just couldn’t bring myself to guffaw at Vincent Chase’s bro-bonding shenanigans when Allen Iverson’s were routinely and patronizingly shat on.
What’s next for Phil Jackson?
Despite it not being the best fit for today’s space and pace game, and despite the fact that his horrific, train-wrecked-into-an-orphanage-at-recess coaching tree has left no competent coach under 85 able to run it, he will continue to be so obsessed with the Triangle Offense that he would slowly begin to morph into an actual triangle. At which point James Dolan will mistake him for a Dorito and eat him.
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas (VSB) and a professional black person. He can be reached at @verysmartbros or firstname.lastname@example.org.