In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN's Jackie MacMullan, Knicks president Phil Jackson was asked about some contemporaries and rivals, including Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley. The conversation turned to the Miami Heat and how LeBron James left. That led to a comment from Jackson about how James wants "special treatment."
The phrasing, however, has stirred some controversy. From ESPN, emphasis mine:
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.
James' longtime business partner and life-long friend, Maverick Carter, objected to that phrasing by Jackson.
Carter had more to say to ESPN's Dave 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."
Yes, NBA stars often have a group of associates or friends that accompany them, and, yes, James has been known to carry his weight. When you're a megastar from the age of 14 and the weight of the sports world hangs on your shoulders, you tend to want to take a little back beyond the millions in salary.
The phrasing, however, is clearly problematic, regardless of Jackson's intent. Carter did clarify that he does not feel Jackson is racist, but just that the description was disrespectful.
One more thing. The idea of a player wanting to spend an extra night, changing his team's entire itinerary does seem audacious. But ESPN provided context on that:
As for Jackson's claim of "special treatment" for James, the Heat did stay 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.
James will no doubt be asked about the situation on Tuesday at Cavaliers' availability.