As he got rolling on Charles Barkley, LeBron James took a moment to address Knicks president Phil Jackson. Jackson, of course, tweaked LeBron earlier in the season by referring to LeBron’s business associates and friends as LeBron’s “posse.”
LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
“I went to see Melo at the Garden two years ago when we were in New York,” James said. “They played Portland. I went up to a suite at halftime and Phil Jackson didn’t say one word to me.”
“I’m here to win ball games and take care of my teammates and take care of my, what’s that word, oh, my ‘posse,’ ” James said, animatedly.
LeBron’s complaints about Jackson’s word choice were fair. “Posse” is a code word used disproportionately to describe the people around black athletes and entertainers. The word, consciously and subconsciously, divides us by race. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging and reacting to that.
But this alleged snub is a different matter.
LeBron would be a free agent the following summer and, as usual, there were rumors about him signing in New York. Jackson talking to him would have opened the door for tampering charges.
Could Jackson have said hello without drawing scrutiny? Probably. Heck, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering rules, Jackson might have been able to pitch LeBron on the Knicks without punishment.
But Jackson had already been fined for tampering once since taking over the Knicks. I’m not rushing to blame him for avoiding another violation.
On the other hand, Jackson got fined again later that season for talking about then-Ohio State freshman D'Angelo Russell. Perhaps, Jackson just didn’t know about that rule, which differs slightly from the rule about tampering with players signed to other NBA teams.
Or maybe there’s a real iciness between Jackson and LeBron that manifested with a cold shoulder in the suite.