The Philadelphia 76ers opened an “independent investigation” into a report alleging that Bryan Colangelo, the team’s top basketball executive, used anonymous burner Twitter accounts to criticize his players, including stars Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz, and to disclose personal information that could be damaging to the athletes.
“An online media outlet filed a story linking multiple social media accounts to 76ers President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo,” the team said in a statement Wednesday morning, in response to a story published by the Ringer. “The allegations are serious and we have commenced an independent investigation into the matter. We will report the results of that investigation as soon as it is concluded.”
By Wednesday morning, Colangelo was “actively reaching out to individuals mentioned in those burner accounts, insisting that he isn’t responsible for those tweets,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported.
The Ringer’s Ben Detrick reported Tuesday that an anonymous source suggested months ago that he look into five Twitter accounts with nondescript identifiers. The same source suggested to Detrick that all five accounts were controlled by Colangelo, who also is the team’s general manager. Some of the accounts had conveyed vehement support for Colangelo, who has taken criticism for his personnel decisions since replacing Sam Hinkie, the general manager behind “The Process,” as Philadelphia’s rebuild is known. The accounts followed other Twitter users who appeared to reflect not only Colangelo’s current occupation but also his previous stops in Toronto and Phoenix and the fact that his son plays basketball for the University of Chicago.
“Most disturbingly,” Detrick wrote, “the accounts have repeatedly disclosed potentially damaging information about Sixers players, including [Jahlil] Okafor, [Nerlens] Noel, Embiid, and, most recently, Fultz. The accounts routinely challenge journalists to report these negative claims and, in some cases, have pushed writers to ask players specific questions or to contact the organization to set up interviews. In every example, the accounts have pursued an agenda of absolving Colangelo of blame while vilifying Sixers players.”
According to Detrick, the 76ers confirmed that Colangelo controlled one of the five accounts, but it was one that never issued its own tweets, merely following others. The team said Colangelo had no knowledge of another account, created around the same time he assumed the reins in Philadelphia, that issued some of the most noteworthy comments in the Ringer story, including that Embiid should be “called out” by 76ers beat writers for his behavior, but “nobody has the guts to do it.”
Detrick said he deliberately mentioned just those two accounts to the team. After this correspondence with the team, he wrote, the other three accounts brought to his attention “switched from public to private, effectively taking them offline.”
In a statement to the Ringer, Colangelo acknowledged using the first account. “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,” he said. “This story line 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.”
Embiid, who maintains an active and frequently humorous presence on social media, appeared to take a sharp jab back at Colangelo, tweeting to one of the five accounts that Hinkie “IS BETTER AND SMARTER THAN YOU,” using the hashtag, “#BurnerAccount.”
Wojnarowski reported Tuesday night that Embiid “talked to” Colangelo, and the general manager asserted that “he didn’t say” what was in the tweets. “He called me just to deny the story,” Embiid told Wojnarowski. “Gotta believe him until proven otherwise.”
“If true, though,” Embiid added, “that would be really bad.”
Wojnarowski also reported that “many league executives seem to believe” that Colangelo’s denials were credible. “It is hard to fathom a GM risking his job in such a reckless manner,” Wojnarowski tweeted. “Many are giving him the benefit of doubt on that level alone. It just doesn’t add up.”
Many others were having fun with the story’s focus on alleged “burner” Twitter accounts, though, including Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Morey responded to a well-known Rockets blog’s joking clarification that it wasn’t secretly under his control by tweeting, “You need two blue checks to confirm you are not a burner,” at which point Cuban replied that “every NBA exec gets assigned 7 burner accounts.”
NBA players took note of the story as well, with Jamal Crawford tweeting, “Oh this is getting crazy.” Trevor Booker, who was acquired by Colangelo in a December trade that sent Okafor to the Nets, said on Twitter: “Just when I was getting depressed [because] there weren’t any NBA [games] tonight, this happens. I knew there was a basketball god after all.”
Booker, who was released by the 76ers in February and latched on with the Pacers, subsequently said, “I don’t think it’s true.” In response to a Twitter user who asked him, “You don’t think they’re his burner accounts?” the veteran forward replied, “Can’t be LOL.”
The Colangelo story capped what was a wild day of headlines for the 76ers, with news that rookie of the year candidate Ben Simmons is dating Kendall Jenner, a prominent member of the Kardashian clan, oddsmakers listing the 76ers with the best odds of landing LeBron James as a free agent this summer, and Coach Brett Brown getting a three-year contract extension. Oh, and there was the latest video of Embiid schooling civilians on Philadelphia’s public basketball courts.
The New York Post’s Page Six cited an “insider familiar with the duo” as saying that “the romance has been going on ‘for a few weeks.’ ”
That was upsetting news for some 76ers fans who have bought into the “Curse of the Kardashians” narrative, in which the reality-TV stars’ affection for NBA players has been seen as a generally dismal development for those athletes’ careers. Page Six also noted that Simmons recently indicated to TMZ Sports that he would be more than open to having James as a teammate, calling the Cavaliers star a “great player.”
James is widely expected to opt out of his contract with Cleveland and become a free agent, and the Sixers, who have burgeoning superstars in Simmons and Embiid as well as plenty of salary cap space and tradable assets, are viewed as among his most likely destinations. The sportsbook BetOnline.ag caused a few ripples Tuesday by giving Philadelphia the best chance of landing the four-time NBA MVP, with the Cavs next, followed by the Rockets, Lakers, Heat, Warriors and Clippers.
After the Colangelo story was posted Tuesday evening, though, more than a few observers wondered whether that news, and the possible front-office turmoil that could result from it, would be enough to keep James from joining the 76ers. That would presumably be a disappointment for Embiid, who has lobbied in the past for James to come to Philadelphia, but the former could always console himself by continuing to dunk on amateurs at Seger Park.
That’s the spot in South Philly where Embiid has been filmed playing tennis — and indulging in an apparent hankering to become the country’s most overqualified pickup basketball player. Monday brought the Internet a clip of the first-time all-star bouncing a basketball off a hopelessly outmatched opponent’s face before cruising to the hoop for a windmill dunk.
The cameo appearances in what are clearly extremely casual, neighborhood hoops sessions have only continued to endear the playful Embiid to Sixers fans, but the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported that there might be a penalty for the oft-injured center. “A team source acknowledged that Embiid would put himself at risk of having at least a portion of his five-year, $146 million contract extension voided if he suffers a serious injury that causes him to miss a substantial amount of time,” Pompey wrote.
Happier contract talk centered on Brown, who has been the 76ers’ head coach since 2013 and thus has endured a huge number of losses as “the Process” unfolded. Brown began to reap the rewards this season, when his squad went from 28 to 52 wins and got to the second round of the playoffs, and he was cemented in his role with the three-year extension, which is set to keep him in Philadelphia through the 2021-22 season (per Wojnarowski).
Ever eager to connect the dots, real or imagined, some online voices posited that the timing of Brown’s extension might not be accidental, given that Colangelo could well have been anticipating the imminent arrival of an exceedingly unflattering story about him. In any event, the news about the coach only served as one of several appetizers Tuesday to the main course of Sixers-centric content that was the Ringer article.
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