It’s hard to crack wise about The Ringer story linking Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo to a handful of Twitter burner accounts that repeatedly bashed current and former players, leaked insider information, including previously undisclosed medical prognoses, and threw other NBA executives under the bus, because there is no joke funnier than the story itself.
It’s also kind of sad, because a mountain of evidence suggests Colangelo or someone close to him felt insecure enough 27 years into his NBA career about social media criticism that risking one of the best jobs in sports was not enough of a deterrent to keep from anonymously trolling online. It’s very 2018.
And because the internet is the internet, the depth of that trolling goes well beyond the surface, and NBA Twitter will shovel through the excrement until we reach the bottom. Less than 48 hours after this story hit the web, we’ve already uncovered a pile of it, so let’s lay all the hilarity and devastation bare.
The backstory to the Bryan Colangelo bombshell
In February, The Ringer’s Ben Detrick got a tip from someone who “worked in artificial intelligence” and “used an open-source data analysis tool” to discover similarities among five Twitter accounts, most of which defended Colangelo against criticism from Sixers fans, bloggers and media members.
That defense knew no end, disparaging Sixers star Joel Embiid and coach Brett Brown, among others; disclosing medical info about Philadelphia lottery picks Markelle Fultz and Jahlil Okafor; ridiculing current Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri (who replaced Colangelo in 2013) and former 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie (who Colangelo replaced in 2016); and praising his own shirt collars.
Detrick and his editors began a months-long investigation into the the Twitter behavior in question, discovering enough evidence to present this case to the Sixers and the public: “Its combination of tweets, retweets and follows creates a Venn diagram that suggests one person behind the account.”
Among the people followed by the five accounts in question were high school and college coaches and teammates of Colangelo’s son, the Sixers president’s business associates in Phoenix, members of his social circle in Toronto and his agent. Retweets include photos of Colangelo and praise of him and his family. And the tweets. Oh, boy, the tweets. Among the worst are the allegations that Okafor’s exit was delayed by a failed physical and Fultz’s shooting woes are more mental than physical.
The kicker: When The Ringer contacted Colangelo through a Sixers media representative, he admitted to operating one of the accounts, three others were switched from public to private within hours, and the fifth unfollowed a few dozen people with whom he has close ties. The evidence is damning.
Colangelo’s official burner account
We know the one account Colangelo conceded to running: @Phila1234567. It is currently set to private and reportedly never tweeted when it was public. He issued this statement about it to The Ringer:
Like many of my colleagues in sports, I have used social media as a means to keep up with the news. While I have never posted anything whatsoever on social media, I have used the @Phila1234567 Twitter account referenced in this story to monitor our industry and other current events. This storyline is disturbing to me on many levels, as I am not familiar with any of the other accounts that have been brought to my attention, nor do I know who is behind them or what their motives may be in using them.
This is true. Many sports executives anonymously lurk on Twitter. No harm, no foul here.
The Five Burners
Within hours of Colangelo learning that The Ringer had discovered his burner account, suspected burner accounts users @Honesta34197118, @Enoughunkownso1 and @s_bonhams also turned private. The fifth alleged burner account, @AlVic40117560, remains public but has not tweeted since July 2017.
Since the public airing of all five accounts, astute Twitter users have scoured the accounts for any bit of info that might advance the story. @ttp316 used Twitter birthdays to reveal that all five alleged burner accounts were created in the immediate aftermath of stories about Colangelo, Hinkie or both:
• @AlVic40117560 was launched one day after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that NBA commissioner Adam Silver introduced Sixers ownership to Jerry and Bryan Colangelo, whose arrival led to Hinkie’s resignation and some controversy about the league’s interference with The Process.
• @Phila1234567 was created when The Sixer Sense published an article praising Hinkie’s success drafting in the second round and raising questions about Colangelo’s decision to trade one of those assets (Jerami Grant) for a veteran (Ersan Ilyasova) during a rebuild that should value young players.
• @s_bonhams was launched on the same day the Inquirer reported that Ben Simmons had suffered a setback in his recovery from a broken bone in his foot, a revelation that was likely to cost him his entire rookie season, all amid criticism that Colangelo was less than transparent about injuries.
• @Enoughunkownso1 was created on the day Okafor told reporters that Colangelo had “waited too long” to get value in return for him in a trade and subsequently denied his request for a buyout.
• @HonestA34197118 was launched the day after Okafor was finally traded to the Brooklyn Nets, a deal that was panned locally because Colangelo also included a pick for a player they would soon release.
The Mrs. Colangelo Theory
Another Twitter user turned up this tasty nugget: The password recovery feature for both an email address belonging to Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, and three of the alleged burner accounts (@AlVic40117560, @Honesta34197118 and @s_bonhams) all pointed to a phone number ending in 91.
Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini has a phone number ending in 91, almost certainly linking her to 3 of the burner accounts.
— Did the Sixers win? (@DidTheSixersWin) May 31, 2018
The email address and a phone number ending in 91 were both listed as contact information for Bottini on the website for Upper Canada College, where she is president of the Parents’ Organization.
Internet sleuths turned up more anecdotal evidence, drawing a line from Bottini’s Italian heritage to the accounts’ interest in Italian studies and their defense of Colangelo’s oversized Italian shirt collars.
There is also this: Someone was tweeting from the still-public @AlVic40117560 account while Colangelo delivered a press conference to confirm a report that Embiid had suffered a meniscal tear — yet another example of the Sixers president’s lack of transparency regarding his young stars’ injuries.
Looking back, Bryan Colangelo held a media availability right before the Heat game on February 11, 2017 to address Joel Embiid’s (previously undisclosed) torn meniscus. From looking at the timestamps, it seems like during that time, Eric Jr was also tweeting during that session. pic.twitter.com/9Q1JOdrXZW
— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) May 31, 2018
So, in addition to knowing one of the five alleged burner accounts belonged to Colangelo, we have learned that three others turned private after he alone was questioned about their existence by a Sixers staffer and the fifth defended him while he spoke to the press, which suggests Colangelo knew about the accounts and was not acting alone. This is NBA Twitter’s version of the Zapruder film.
The Sam Hinkie Theory
Some folks have jokingly insinuated that this is all an elaborate hoax created by Hinkie to embarrass the man who took his job, which would require insight into front-office decisions after he left and an incredible amount of effort to follow various people involved in the lives of Colangelo’s family. And something tells me Hinkie isn’t defending Colangelo’s choice of shirt collars to keep the con going.
While it seems far-fetched for Hinkie to frame Colangelo for disclosing damaging information about the organization, not everyone is convinced that the former GM didn’t leak the story to The Ringer.
As @Cole_Kev points out, The Ringer published a story in March that noted of Hinkie’s post-NBA career: “He’s an angel investor and adviser for various startups, and has become increasingly interested in machine learning and artificial intelligence.” You’ll recall that the anonymous tipster who used data analysis to discover the five alleged burner accounts “worked in artificial intelligence.”
The coincidence here is far less convincing than those linking Colangelo and his wife to the accounts.
Wait, there’s more
You didn’t think we were done, did you? Members of a Philadelphia 76ers forum on RealGM.com uncovered a Disqus account under the name Jacob Reuben (a biblical reference) that was used to routinely comment on Philadelphia Inquirer and The Sixer Sense coverage, among other websites.
The content of those comments includes much of the same insider-y language from the alleged burner accounts. This one, which manages to throw Okafor, Fultz and Nerlens Noel under the bus in addition to blaming Hinkie for leaking the report of Embiid’s meniscus tear, is a prime example:
There are 164 more comments, covering every defense of Colangelo from February 10, 2017, when he announced his “goal” for Embiid and Simmons to play together that season (which never happened), to April 18 of this year, when the Inquirer lauded his front office’s use of data analytics in free agency.
“When Sam did it,” the commenter suggested, “it was genius.”
Ironically, The Athletic’s Derek Bodner reported on the Sixers Beat podcast this week that, according to other NBA executives, Colangelo ran multiple RealGM burner accounts during his time in Toronto.
This is a rabbit hole from which you may never reemerge.
Two denials and an investigation
Sandwiched around the team’s announcement that it was launching an independent investigation into “serious” allegations in Detrick’s story were two separate denials by Colangelo to Yahoo Sports.
In a conversation with Yahoo’s Shams Charania on Tuesday night, soon after the story dropped, Colangelo said he stood by his statement to The Ringer — that he knew only of the one burner account he operated and was unaware of the “motives or origins” of the other four in question.
By Wednesday morning, around the time the 76ers announced their investigation, Colangelo was already reaching out to the players, coaches and executives affected by the comments from those burner accounts, telling them he was not responsible, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi.
And on Wednesday afternoon, Colangelo told Yahoo’s Jordan Schultz via text message, “Someone’s out to get me. … This is clearly not me.” He left that conversation “hopeful to resolve this soon.”
As we await the results of the 76ers’ internal investigation, the internet inquiry is well underway, and a new mountain of evidence suggests if “someone’s out to get” Colangelo, he won’t have to look far.
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