If Sixers can’t clear him, Colangelo must step down

The allegations against the 76ers president of basketball operations are bad optics at a critical time.

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo at a 2016 press conference introducing Ben Simmons

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo at a 2016 press conference introducing Ben Simmons

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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Many pro sports executives have anonymous “shadow” Twitter accounts. Most of them, even. These accounts are used to quietly keep an eye an on things — what the media is saying, what their players are posting. Sometimes, as with a few NHL GMs, the accounts are somewhat of an open secret.

Maybe that’s all we’re dealing with in this Bryan Colangelo Twitter scandal. But maybe not.

By now, you’ve probably heard about The Ringer’s deep dive into a collection of Twitter accounts that may or may not belong to Colangelo, the 76ers’ president of basketball operations. Colangelo admitted to owning one, @Phila1234567, an account that follows Sixers staff, media members and other basketball insiders but never tweets. No problems there. It’s the other four accounts mentioned in the piece where things get juicy.

To be clear, The Ringer never definitively states that Colangelo owns the other accounts; the reporter, Ben Detrick, just lays out the evidence that suggests he very well might. Alternative theories from around the internet propose the accounts could be manned by Colangelo’s son Mattia, his father Jerry, or someone else entirely.

But it all boils down to this: Unless the Sixers can prove beyond doubt that Colangelo is not affiliated with the four burner accounts in question, he needs to resign for the sake of the team.

No matter your feelings about Colangelo as a basketball executive, he’s now a liability. The Sixers have taken the correct first step in launching an internal investigation, but as we all know, there’s no guarantee anything will turn up to damn his name or clear it. And if the four burner accounts in question can’t be explained away, that’s a problem.

It’s especially a problem right now, in this current moment in Sixers history. The team is coming off a 52-win season and its first playoff appearance since 2011-12. The Sixers have at least two of the most dynamic and exciting young players in the game, guys like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Things are finally going the Sixers’ way. And to take the next step and become a team that can legitimately compete for a championship, they need to pick up a marquee player or two this summer, whether via free agency or trade.

But do you really think LeBron James or Paul George want to come into a situation like what’s going on in Philadelphia right now?

Before you roll your eyes and pass it off as simply social media drama, know this: When it comes to attracting free agents, perception matters. A lot. Teams produce slick videos touting the benefits of their cities and facilities to lure players. They spend a lot of time and money to convince big-name players they’re the right fit. It doesn’t matter what the reality is — if the perception is that things are a mess in Philly, things might as well be a mess in Philly.

In professional sports, and especially the NBA, social media is king. If you’ve so much as glanced at Twitter since Tuesday night, you know exactly what the perception around much of the league currently is. Even Embiid, the team’s star player with 1.42 million followers, is tweeting jokes about the scandal. To say “that’s not good” is an understatement.

The NBA’s 2018-19 season kicks off July 1, when restricted free agents can sign offer sheets. Unrestricted free agents can’t sign anywhere until July 6 — but that’s just the date players can officially sign. To believe teams aren’t quietly making pushes for star players ahead of July is to be willfully ignorant.

That means the Sixers’ investigation better be efficient, and fast. Every hour this drags on is doing damage to the team. And you have to hope Colangelo is aware of and honest with himself about that.

The Ringer story does a good job of laying out the problematic content of the burner accounts’ tweets, so consider this encouragement to read or re-read that piece with a focus on the posts about players’ medical issues and off-court issues. The issues those tweets raise are many and serious – and only add to the argument in support of Colangelo’s future being in doubt. There’s no need to dig into that here.

Again: It’s totally possible these posts aren’t coming from Colangelo or anyone associated with him. But when reporters like Adrian Wojnarowski are tweeting that the posts in question contain private team business and opinions known to be shared by him inside and outside of the confines of the Sixers, that’s a problem.

As a Sixers fan (I can say that now that I’m out of the biz), I hope the investigation ends in Colangelo’s favor – and I say that as someone who’s been critical of his actions and philosophies in the past.

We’re at an important moment in Sixers history, and the last thing fans need is another humiliation to which they can only sigh and respond, “Yeah, this could only happen in Philly.”