Phil Jackson’s description of LeBron James’s business partners as his “posse” in an interview published by ESPN on Monday drew an angry response from James, who took offense at the racial connotation of the word.
The dispute between Jackson, the Knicks’ president, and James, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers and is one of the N.B.A.’s most visible players, also left Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony in the uncomfortable position of having to answer questions about a sudden feud involving one of his bosses and one of his good friends.
The ESPN interview was a wide-ranging Q. and A. in which Jackson talked about the state of the Knicks, the criticism of his management of the team, and his relationship with Anthony. But James took exception with Jackson’s description of the group of friends who travel and work with him as his “posse.”
James and Maverick Carter, his close friend and business partner, both took offense at Jackson’s use of the word. Carter told ESPN.com he was bothered because of the idea that Jackson said it because James and his friends are “young and black, he can use that word.” James said he had lost respect for Jackson as a result of the comments.
“We see the success that we have, but then there is always someone that lets you know how far we still have to go as African-Americans,” James told reporters in Cleveland.
“I don’t believe that Phil Jackson would have used that term if he was doing business with someone else and working with another team or if he was working with anybody in sports that was owning a team that wasn’t African-American and had a group of guys around them that didn’t agree with what they did.
James, Carter and two other high school friends, Rich Paul and Randy Mims, founded L.R.M.R. Management Company a decade ago. The agency handles marketing and representation duties for James and other N.B.A. players.
The company has been successful since its inception, positioning James as one of the top athletes-turned-entrepreneurs of his generation.
In the ESPN interview, Jackson, responding to a question about James’s decision to leave the Miami Heat, and whether he could imagine Magic Johnson leaving Pat Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers or Michael Jordan leaving Jackson and the Chicago Bulls, turned his response back around to James.
“When LeBron was playing with the Heat, they went to Cleveland and he wanted to spend the night,” Jackson told ESPN.com. “They don’t do overnights. Teams just don’t. So now Spoelstra” — a reference to the Heat 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.”
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