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Hall of Fame NBA coach Phil Jackson says he hasn’t watched basketball since the 2020 bubble seaon in Orlando, Florida, during the COVID-19 pandemic because he didn’t like the slogans on players’ jerseys or on the court.
The NBA agreed to let players wear slogans such as “Justice,” “Equality,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Say Their Names,” “Vote,” “Peace” and others on the back of their jerseys instead of their names as a show of solidarity for racial justice in the United States.
“ … They had things on their back like ‘Justice’ and a funny thing happened like, ‘Justice just went to the basket and Equal Opportunity knocked him down,'” Jackson said on the Tetragrammaton podcast with Rick Rubin. “… Some of my grandkids thought it was pretty funny to play up those names; I couldn’t watch that.”Phil Jackson
That decision by the league came on the heels of massive protests during the 2020 summer after the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, and the death of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman who was killed in her home.
Games were postponed during the bubble when players refused to play in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in Wisconsin. However, Jackson seemed to have no commentary on Blake, Floyd, Taylor or the impetus for the 2020 protests.
Phil Jackson loves Black players, just not Black people
Jackson has said “a certain population in our society” has a “limitation of their attention span” because of rap music, players “have been dressing in prison garb … it’s like gangster, thuggery stuff” and referred to LeBron James’ business partners as his “posse” in a 2016 interview with ESPN.
Jackson told ESPN’s J.A. Adande in 2010, “I don’t think teams should get involved in the political stuff,” when talking about the Phoenix Suns’ peaceful protest of Arizona’s new immigration laws with “Los Suns” jerseys.
Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen, who played for Jackson during the Bulls’ championship runs in the 1990s, accused his former coach in 2021 of being racist after Jackson drew up a last-second play for then-rookie Toni Kuko? instead of Pippen during a 1994 playoff game.
NBA legend Robert Horry recalled a timeout team huddle with Jackson, “We were in a huddle and Phil was like, ‘You need to know the sound of your master’s voice,’ and I looked at him like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, we don’t do that. I’m from the South.’”
Pippen also said Jackson tried to “expose” Kobe Bryant after leaving him and the Los Angeles Lakers to write a book in 2004, only to return in 2005.
Phil Jackson banned Shaq from acting, rapping, and partying in ’99
In his 2011 biography Shaq Uncut, the former Lakers legend mentioned a summer meeting in 1999 between himself and Jackson in preparation of the upcoming season.
According to The Sports Rush, Jackson insinuated O’Neal couldn’t swim and banned him from extracurricular activities like DJ’ing, acting, rapping, and partying.
Phil Jackson owes his legacy to Black players
Known as something of a Zen master, Phil Jackson seems to always have the sage smoke for the very culture which transformed him from an average ex-player with a bad back to a G.O.A.T. coach in less than two decades.
His best individual playing year was in 1975, averaging 10.8 ppg and 7.7 rpg; Jackson played, coached and was an executive in the NBA for 50 years from 1967-2017. He is in the Basketball of Fame for his time as a coach, where he won 11 NBA titles with the Bulls and Lakers.
Jackson became the president of the New York Knicks in 2014 but mutually parted ways with the team in 2017 after flaming out in infamy.
For years, Jackson has hooded himself behind “slogans” and “posse” with the intention of communicating to those savvy enough to read between the lines. Phil Jackson, a man of reasonable intelligence, will likely never say the n-word in public, however, statements made over the course of his life convey a long history of agitation and disdain towards the very culture that he once relied upon to redefine his mid-at-best career.