Pierre Bourdieu would have solid reasons for why the Golden State Warriors fired successful coach Mark Jackson.
The late French sociologist saw the modern individual as engaging in a complex web of relations involving art, journalism, education, economics, culinary tastes, sport, science and so forth.
These relations defined those who were in power and those who were not. The dominant individual groups were more likely to dine at restaurants with white table cloths, drink wine, have advanced degrees, read the New Yorker, go to museums and play golf. White, affluent males would fall into this category.
Conversely, the dominated were more likely to eat fast food, be relatively uneducated, watch reality television, drink beer, rarely travel and play basketball. Poor and middle-class minorities would comprise this group.
The aforementioned examples are overly simplistic; however, Bourdieu’s point was that these social categories and tastes tended to reinforce those who were dominant and those who were not. They established patterns that repeated themselves.
When asked why owner Joe Lacob (white man of tremendous wealth) fired Jackson (an African-American who grew up playing street ball in Brooklyn and Queens), Lacob said, “I would say it’s less based on performance – that is win-loss record – and perhaps slightly more based on overall philosophy.”
B-i-n-g-o. Jackson always had to fight to succeed. He did so playing street ball, he did so during his 17-year NBA career and he continued to do so when got his first head coaching job. While growing up in Queens, Jackson said he learned a lesson from the street ball legends who squandered their basketball opportunities to crime and drugs. Jackson stayed away from street crime, and he didn’t get high. Nevertheless, Jackson lost a brother, who died of AIDS after contracting the disease from intravenous drug use.
These experiences are probably far different from those of Jackson’s bosses. Lacob said he was poor growing up in the East, but probably did not have the same hardscrabble experiences that Jackson endured. General manager Bob Myers was reared in the wealthy and mainly white Bay Area suburb of Danville.
Lacob, Myers, team godfather Jerry West, and Lacob’s business partner, Peter Guber, all travel in different spheres than Jackson. They likely have a broad base in which to relate to each other, which Jackson may not share.
Also, as a first-time head coach at any level, Jackson had never dealt with being an executive in corporate culture. He had always been a employee as a television broadcaster and an NBA player. But as a coach, Jackson needed to negotiate his way through a corporate bureaucracy, and unfortunately, he brought his street-fighting mentality to the process.
At some point, Jackson felt threatened by this unfamiliar environment. As a result, according to sources, he closed ranks and set up his own camp in opposition to his employers. If his assistant coaches exhibited the slightest sign of disloyalty, or if he perceived collusion with the corporate bosses, Jackson saw them as disloyal.
Not surprisingly, the coaches Jackson had trouble with – Mike Malone, Darren Erman and Brian Scalabrine – are white. Jackson’s closest assistants, Pete Myers and Lindsey Hunter, are both African American.
In the end, the street fighter, even though he was successful, lost.
Bourdieu would have difficulty finding blame here. He would likely say that it was too bad that neither Jackson nor the Warriors ownership and management had the communication skills to bridge their cultural differences.
It leaves the Warriors searching for a new coach, and the rumored front runner is Steve Kerr. A former white, NBA player who likely travels in the same cultural sphere or “habitus” as Bourdieu would say, as the Warriors bosses.
Meanwhile, Mark Jackson, the dominated in this scenario, is hoping somebody else will hire him.