Phil Jackson, whether he intended to or not, sparked a war of words with LeBron James this week, referring to James’ business partners – many of whom are lifelong friends – as his “posse.” James, in turn, responded that he has lost respect for Jackson.

“Look, LeBron is very, very appreciative of what the people around him have helped him do,” CBS Sports NBA writer Ethan Skolnick said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “He gave them a platform. I know Rich Paul was someone he met later on, but Maverick Carter is somebody he played basketball with in high school and has been instrumental in creating new opportunities for LeBron. At this point, it doesn’t stun me. Nothing stuns me (in terms of something) becoming a controversy.”

Still, wasn’t the reaction a bit over the top from James and Carter, who felt there were racial undertones in Jackson’s use of the word “posse”?

“Well, I do think Phil misspoke,” Skolnick said. “But again, what LeBron and his team, as he calls them – and he uses much different words than ‘posse.’ He’ll call them his ‘team,’ ‘la familia,’ etc. He has a high sensitivity towards it, again, because he did something so unconventional. He didn’t go with people who were necessarily experienced in the business at the beginning. He went with the people he trusted most. If you look at LeBron’s career, certainly he’s had a ton to do with it. Obviously he’s the best player in the world – or arguably, whether you say he’s 1 now or 2 or 3, he certainly proved in the Finals last year that there was nobody better than him. And he’s made himself into a billion-dollar enterprise, essentially.

“And so, yeah, I understand what you’re saying, that maybe we focus too much on words these days and maybe Phil didn’t mean anything by it,” Skolnick continued. “But again, I think this is just an area where LeBron is sensitive. We’ve also heard LeBron speak out on social issues much more as of late, and I think that plays into it, too. He has more of a sort of social conscience that he’s expressing publicly now, and so now it comes back on him a little bit with his comments, and he’s going to be willing to speak his mind. . . . Whatever he says is going to be a major story. That’s been the case basically since he’s been, what, 17, 18 years old? Whatever LeBron says is going to ignite the national conversation, there’s no question about that.”

Jackson likely didn’t intend to be racially insensitive in his comments, but it was also out of bounds, one could argue, for him to claim that James wanted to spend the night in Cleveland during a road game when he was still playing for the Heat.

“We have to look at people’s intent,” Skolnick said. “I don’t think that Phil intended it to be taken the way that it was taken. But LeBron also has a right, I think, if it bothers him to express that right. That’s the whole thing about first amendment. One side can say something, but the person that feels like they’re affected by it is allowed to say something back, too. That’s kind of why we end up with second-day stories and third-day stories and four-day stories because it keeps going back and forth. Again, my initial take on it was Phil was talking about something that happened inside the Heat’s house. I was trying to figure out if this was something he got secondhand, that LeBron wanted to stay overnight. Phil, I think, has sort of misinterpreted what the facts of that situation were. In general, I think Phil could have done that interview without talking about this particular situation. You can argue that LeBron shouldn’t have inflamed it, but it all starts with the interview and Phil’s comments.”


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