Welcome to the NBA feud you never saw coming.
New York Knicks president Phil Jackson recently sat down with ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan for a question-and-answer session. At one point, MacMullan asks Jackson about Riley, and he kind of goes out of his way to criticize LeBron James:
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.
LeBron and his business partner and friend, Maverick Carter, were none to happy with the implications Jackson’s use of the word “posse” had.
Carter tweeted the following:
— Maverick Carter (@mavcarter) November 14, 2016
Let me be clear I'm not saying @PhilJackson11 is racist,, I'm calling out his disrespectful language
— Maverick Carter (@mavcarter) November 15, 2016
And LeBron would later say this, per ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin:
“Zero,” James said Tuesday, when asked if he had any previous ties to Jackson. “No relationship at all. I had nothing but respect for him as a coach for what he was able to do. Obviously he was at the helm of [the team featuring] my favorite player of all time [Michael Jordan], and also being there growing up and watching him with the Lakers, but I got nothing for him.”
Notice LeBron’s use of “had” here.
Many might feel like this situation is overblown, and that Jackson was using posse innocuously, since it doesn’t infer the same meaning it once did. Perhaps that is the case to some extent.
But Jackson veered pretty far right to slam James. So even if he wasn’t taking shots at him and his legitimate business empire, he sure as hell made sure to question LeBron’s character, claiming that he likes special treatment.
Knicks fans have long complained that their team isn’t transparent enough, and Jackson, to his credit, has been fairly regular with his public exposure. But there are just some things you don’t do—like publicly disrespect, deliberately or inadvertently, the best player in the world, who has ties to an agency that can influence the perception of some of the biggest names, incumbent and upcoming, in basketball.
At the very least, as some sort of damage control, Jackson should offer an apology. At this writing, he hasn’t, and by now it may be too late. The damage, whether he meant it or not, has been done.