I’ve said this before, but it seems appropriate to reiterate it now as the goofy Bryan Colangelo scandal continues to unravel.
No matter the topic or venue, there’s not much redeeming about social media these days. Yet when it comes to the sports world, there is one consistently satisfying oasis amid the cesspool.
The copacetic relationship among the NBA, its individual players, and their collective use of Twitter is genuinely wonderful, to the point that it actually enhances the perception of the league.
Many of the NBA’s highest-profile players — and some executives, including Danny Ainge on occasion — are accessible, opinionated, authentic-seeming, and often hilarious on Twitter.
This is the rare case — perhaps the only surviving case — of social media making something fun even more enjoyable.
Commissioner Adam Silver’s NBA treats the players like free-thinking adults and cultivates trust (see: adios, Donald Sterling). That seems a significant reason why its decision to require players to stand for the national anthem didn’t turn into a cultural touchstone as it did in vacant suit Roger Goodell’s hopelessly antagonistic, us-versus-them NFL.
In a much smaller way, the NBA’s comparatively democratic approach allows for the sharing of video, amusing memes, and savvy brand management by its players.
When there is a silly yet real moment that resonates on social media — such as the Clippers’ “kidnapping’’ of DeAndre Jordan to prevent him from signing with the Mavericks three years ago — the NBA doesn’t just allow the joke, it is in on it.
Maybe that’s why the Colangelo situation is so bewildering. If you somehow missed it Tuesday night — or the various plot twists since then — the website The Ringer dropped a piece by Ben Detrick titled “The Curious Case of Bryan Colangelo and the Secret Twitter Account.’’
The story detailed, in painstaking and riveting fashion, five anonymous Twitter accounts that appeared to track back to Colangelo, the Sixers’ president of basketball operations.
The accounts criticized past and current Sixers players, including Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel (who was called “a selfish punk’’), while revealing private information, most notably about Okafor’s medical history.
Colangelo acknowledged to The Ringer that one of the accounts was his, but he said he was “not familiar’’ with the others. “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 in a statement.
“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.’’
The Sixers announced Wednesday that they had launched an investigation into Colangelo’s social media history.
Given how meticulously Detrick connected the dots after receiving an anonymous tip about Colangelo’s activity, there does not appear to be a lot of room to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Naturally, the citizens of the Internet launched their own investigations, and the story only got stranger from there. Wednesday, the Twitter account @didthesixerswin discovered that Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, had a phone number ending in the same two numbers as the one connected to three of the accounts. One of those accounts actually may have given Colangelo an alibi: Time stamps indicated it was tweeting at the same moment Colangelo was addressing the media about the condition of Embiid’s injured knee on Feb. 11, 2017.
The indication that it may have been Colangelo’s wife running the accounts hardly closes the case, though. Colangelo did acknowledge having one of the assorted accounts, and there is still suspicion that he knew what was going on.
If indeed he was involved in this, the obvious question is: Why?
While he may not get much credit for the Sixers’ improvement this season — cornerstone players Embiid and Ben Simmons were the products of predecessor Sam Hinkie’s tanking process — he is an accomplished basketball executive. In fact, he won the league’s Executive of the Year award twice, with the 2005 Suns and 2007 Raptors.
It must be an ego thing, an unwitting exposure of his own insecurities. But really, how much of a boost can an ego receive from a handful of phony Twitter accounts?
If he did this, at least he can know he is not alone. Warriors star Kevin Durant famously was revealed to have a fake account — known as a “burner’’ — on Twitter, which he used to parry some who disparaged him. But he was up front in admitting it. Considering that he begins playing for a second straight NBA title Thursday night, he seems to have moved on from the embarrassment rather well.
Durant wasn’t about to be fired for his Internet silliness, which has faded to another tale in NBA Twitter lore.
The stakes are higher for Colangelo.
Embiid, after a serious of hilarious tweets in reaction to the story, said he believed Colangelo, suggesting he’s an even better diplomat than he is a basketball player, considering that one of the accounts called him a “big selfish baby.’’
Letting Ainge fleece Colangelo for Jayson Tatum isn’t going to get him fired.
But if (or when) the person behind the burners proves to be Colangelo or even his wife, it’s hard to fathom that he will keep his job.
NBA Twitter is a good time. But as one Colangelo or another seems to have proven, not everyone knows how to play.