Let’s get two things clear about Phil Jackson’s use of the word “posse” in reference to LeBron James’ friends and business partners.
1. Jackson didn’t intend to offend anyone
2. Regardless of his intentions, what he said was offensive
Whether Jackson knows it or not, calling James’ group of friends a “posse” reveals deep prejudices about young black males that have been built into the psyche of white society. When Jackson was speaking of the situation, he was probably searching for a way to simply refer to a group of males, but that the group he was speaking of was black – specifically black males in the world of sports – the word posse was elicited. If it were Jeff Hornacek meeting with a group of his friends or business partners, we can’t say for sure but it doesn’t seem like Jackson’s word choice would’ve been the same.
To some, it may seem like James overreacted to the use of a word that has been tossed around in similar situations for decades. It’s not unreasonable to think that some of the players Jackson once coached referred to their crews as posses. And although James brought up the dictionary definition of posse to further enforce his point, Jackson clearly wasn’t using the word by its literal sense. He did use it in a condescending tone, however, so as to dismiss the accomplishments of James’ agent Rich Paul and James’ business parter Maverick Carter. By calling them a posse, Jackson reduced them to guys hanging around for either the sole purpose of collecting benefits because they’re cool with a superstar basketball player, or to inflict violence on other people for the star basketball player. In actuality, these are grown men with individual business ventures going on in their lives. They aren’t teenagers fresh out of high school anymore, even if Jackson wanted to refer to them as a posse back then.
James and Carter were right to call out Jackson, not for an apology or reversal of what was already said, but as a reminder to anyone else who might label young black men based on prejudices, to see and think before they speak.