Opinion: Phil Jackson’s ‘posse’ comments blown out of proportion

Matt Poe

It seems like ages since I wrote a sports column or a column that didn’t revolve around the election or its unpleasant (that’s me being nice) results. Frankly, I need a damn detox from politics for a little while, and late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert articulated it best on election night, when he noted how much this election consumed us as both individuals and as a nation.

So, I’m enacting a self-imposed break from political talk for a while, for my sanity and yours. Truthfully, I doubt it lasts long.

In other news, Phil Jackson, a former NBA head coach and current president of the New York Knicks, struck an odd chord this week when referred to LeBron James’ business associates as a “posse” in an interview with ESPN. Jackson made the comments when discussing James’s departure from Miami to return to Cleveland in 2014.

James has since said he has “zero” respect left for Jackson, whom he has never been coached by or worked with.

James immediately criticized Jackson’s comments, and stated that the only reason Jackson made those comments is because James and company are black, which hinted at a subtle tone of racism in Jackson’s remarks. Jackson has yet to address his use of the word or the context which he meant to use it. It’s since sparked a hot debate in the world of sports this week.

Look, I may be rather blunt when saying this, but I’m getting a little tired of playing the “Is it racist?” game. If this year has proven anything, we still have a long way to go as a country in addressing racism, probably further than most of us thought or wanted to believe. It’s imperative that we continue to address these issues and identify them as the serious issues they are.

But in Jackson’s case, I think we’re blowing this out of proportion. The word “posse” has no connotation with any other words that may appear racist. In most definitions, it means a group of people gathered together to do something. Many of James’ business associates are old friends that he grew up with in Akron, and my guess is that much of the ill-will James took up with this was due to the displeasure his friends felt from the comments.

James made tremendously positive headlines this summer when he and other NBA players addressed racial tension and police brutality at the ESPYs. It was a great moment for him and the rest of professional sports, who often turn a blind eye to social issues and James helped lead the charge.

That is why I’m surprised and confused at James’s reaction to the comments. James is a smart man, but lumping these comments made by Jackson into the overall umbrella of other racial issues this country has is befuddling. To put this country’s racial tension on par with these comments is something I don’t understand; as the saying goes, one of these things is not alike.

Then again, I am not a black man living in this country right now.

Jackson is 71 years old, so his vernacular for describing groups of young people should not be held to today’s standard. The fact that he was even commenting on the situation is just odd in the first place. He needs to spend more time fixing his crappy team than worrying about what James and his associates do. Move along, old man!

But in all seriousness, it’s on us, too. Over-analyzing these types of incidents can distract us from other important issues, issues that James himself has been instrumental in addressing.

This one, however, he should have left untouched. It’s easy for me to say, but if we blow instances like this one out of proportion, it can blind us to what really needs to be addressed and discussed.

Matt Poe is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].