Here’s Why Phil Jackson’s ‘Posse’ Comment Pissed Off LeBron James So Much

Was the NBA superstar right to be so annoyed about Jackson calling his friends and business partners a “posse?”

What do you think of when you hear the word “posse?” An outlaw gang of cowboys? Female genitalia? A racially loaded way to refer to a black athlete’s friends? 

If you’re LeBron James, the answer is number three. We know because of the way he reacted to Phil Jackson calling his friends and business partners a “posse” in an ESPN interview.

Jackson was talking about LeBron’s time with the Heat and referred to an instance when LeBron and his business partners wanted to spend the night in Cleveland after playing the Cavs. “You can’t hold up the whole team because you and your mom and your posse want to spend an extra night in Cleveland,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s word choice caused James to bristle.

“I don’t believe that Phil Jackson would have used that term if he was doing business with someone else … that wasn’t African-American,” James told reporters in Cleveland. “I don’t think he would have called them a posse. But it just shows how far we have to go.”

To understand why LeBron is upset about Jackson’s word choice, understand how the people who hang around NBA players are sometimes stereotyped. They’re thought of as grifters trying to get a buck and a little shine off the star they grew up with. “Friends” like that are why Allen Iverson is out of money. The word “posse” in this context has negative and racially-charged implications.

LeBron is surrounded by respectable businessmen, and that’s another reason why he’s mad. The people he travels with are indeed childhood friends and are serious people, not hangers-on. Their LRMR Management Company has been an undeniable success. Calling these guys LeBron’s “posse” belittles their accomplishments and seriousness. “If he would have said LeBron and his agent, LeBron and his business partners or LeBron and his friends, that’s one thing,” LeBron said to reporters. “Yet because you’re young and black, he can use that word. We’re grown men.”

LeBron isn’t the only one peeved at Jackson’s comments. Carmelo Anthony, a player on Jackson’s Knicks and a friend of LeBron’s, publicly acknowledged that he wouldn’t want to be referred to as the leader of a posse either. “I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist or educated person to know what that means to us,” he said.