NEW YORK - There he was: Sam Hinkie, the Sixers' invisible general manager, usually harder to find than a snipe in the bushes.
But Wednesday night Hinkie was right where a general manager ought to be during a time of crisis: outside the visitors' locker room at Madison Square Garden, basketball's holy temple, ready to explain the club's decrees and actions as it suspended the Big Asset for street fighting.
Ready to take ownership, the Sixers' motto in these trying times.
The Sixers on Wednesday suspended troubled rookie Jahlil Okafor, but only after universal outrage at video of a second street fight; one that ended with a motionless victim lying face-down, bleeding from the head.
Two minutes before coach Brett Brown was due to take his public flaying for the team's poor handling of the fights, Hinkie appeared. Surrounded by a security guard and three other Sixers personnel, he slid into the locker room, fleeing the imminent moment . . . right?
Brown emerged and, as usual, took the bullets, never once flinching at the firing squad in front of him. When Brown finished his session . . . well, what do you know? There was Hinkie, standing outside of the locker room.
After all, Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick in the NBA draft in June, might be facing lawsuits and criminal prosecution. Surely, Hinkie would have thoughts on the matter.
Sam, can I speak with you about the Okafor situation?
Hinkie shook my hand, smiled and said, "Not today."
Of course not.
Better to let Brown, the head coach, explain how Okafor lied when Okafor told Brown about what happened in the early hours of Nov. 26 on the Boston streets.
Let Brown explain why it took a fourth dangerous incident - a second fight on Thanksgiving eve - before the Sixers delivered their too-little, too-late, two-game suspension, in concert with the NBA, they said.
Let Brown dance around the question of whether Okafor needs counseling or therapy to control his anger.
"This is bigger than me," Brown said at one point, clearly perturbed.
Wednesday night, the night after they ended the longest losing streak in sports history, Brown had to do Hinkie's job again.
Brown was unhappy last year when point guard Michael Carter-Williams was traded without his input. Safely assume that he is furious now. Brown has never been less affable than he was before Wednesday's game.
Apparently, there is no analytic for accountability.
This is nothing new.
When the spit hits the fan, Hinkie puts on a raincoat and walks away, leaving Brown to stand in the face of the spitstorm.
The Okafor saga broke Thanksgiving Day, when a TMZ video surfaced that showed Okafor getting into an embarrassing but relatively harmless scuffle with a few taunters outside a Boston nightclub. A little digging unearthed a wilder side to the Duke product: an Inquirer report of a speeding incident in November; and another post-partying street confrontation in early November, which allegedly found Okafor staring down the barrel of a gun, according to CSNphilly.com.
Incredibly, Okafor played in three games after the fight and all of those other hijinks came to light. The Sixers assessed some form of discipline; most likely, a fine.
Then, Wednesday, a second TMZ video surfaced that showed Okafor involved in a separate incident on the same night. In this video, Okafor runs into the street to confront taunters. The video is unclear as to who hit whom, but it is clear that, at the end of it, one of the taunters is face-down on the sidewalk. He slowly rolls over and there is a gash in his head that reportedly required 10 stitches.
That's right: The first fight video wasn't enough.
Sound familiar? Ray Rice familiar?
It took a second video for sanity to surface in that fiasco, too.
Anyone who believes street fights are boys-being-boys rites of passage has never seen a real street fight. People get maimed. People get shot. People die, sometimes from nothing more than hitting their head on the sidewalk.
Two games? Two weeks, maybe. Two months would not be too much.
You see, Okafor did not own the incident. He approached his coach the next day and minimized it. He lied, and he got caught in that lie.
The Sixers did not own Okafor's actions, because they did not react correctly to the first video, especially since they were aware of all of the previous incidents. This two-game suspension is not ownership. It is a corporate reaction aimed at placating the outraged.
Most egregiously, Hinkie did not own anything.
Why should he? His biggest Asset didn't get hurt. The Big Asset will be back on the court in five days. After getting abused by Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol and Roy Hibbert the past three games, the Big Asset can probably use the rest.
Asked if the off-court issues affected Okafor in games the past week, Brown said, "Of course it did."
It was the last question he was allowed to answer before the team brusquely ended the interview.
The other meaningful answers in the allotted time:
"The news that came out today, trying to judge it in its totality, the club felt like this was the thing we could do twofold: Show him tough love; and that we understand he's ours, and that we have to help him, and help him we will."
So does that mean Okafor will receive therapy or counseling? After all, he twice grew so enraged at taunts that he at least confronted two instigators.
"To detail the plan that will be put in place for Jahlil is reckless," Brown said. They will review Okafor's "shortcomings" and "offer him the support that's necessary."
One of the shortcomings is telling the truth. Okafor finally was suspended because he lied to his coach last Thursday, when he offered minimal details about a full-blown brawl.
"The further details that came out surprised me," admitted Brown, who described his conversation with Okafor in Okafor's hotel room thus: "He's ashamed. He's embarrassed. This has caught him off-guard."
Yes: The TMZ videos caught the Big Asset off-guard, especially the second one. He never expected his lies to come to light.
"He does own it," Brown insisted. Ownership after denying evidence is produced is not ownership.
"We own it," Brown said.
Well, kind of. Finally. Perhaps the NBA forced some of that ownership. Okafor was still listed as a starter fewer than 90 minutes before tipoff Wednesday night.
Brown said, "We're doing this in partnership with the NBA and his family and his representatives. It's a collaborative effort."
To Sixers are admitting that the athlete, his family and his agents were allowed input on that player's discipline. That is incredible.
Look at that tail wag that dog.
Clearly, the family, the agents and Hinkie didn't want Okafor punished when the first video surfaced, but Brown sounded as if he would have benched Okafor right away.
"This is bigger than me," Brown said (there's the context).
When pressed as to whether the NBA would assess further discipline, Brown admitted, "We don't know."
Okafor was not at MSG on Wednesday night, where his teammates fell to 1-19. He has not addressed his situation since Sunday, when he issued four tweets that said . . . nothing.
Brown brushed aside a question that implied that Okafor's family and his agents have proved unsuitable to properly guide a hypersensitive, easily provoked, 19-year-old millionaire with anger issues.
The team has said it will assign Okafor a bodyguard (baby sitter) when the Big Asset goes out on the town. He's 19, two years from legal drinking age. He's a 6-11, 250-pound target who apparently has an awful fake I.D. Where's he going?
Dave & Buster's?
At least the Sixers are owning the creation of the toxic environment that appears to be driving Okafor to this behavior. Hinkie's unprecedented model for franchise construction involves chronic losing to assure top draft picks for at least a half-decade.
Brown yesterday told the "The Dan Patrick Show" that "We'd all have to be naive to think that (losing) doesn't have some level of effect" on Okafor's recent rages.
Okafor, a champion in high school and college, has, since November, been part of a record-tying, 18-game losing streak to start the season and a 28-game losing streak that carries over from last season. Brown went further Wednesday night:
"I feel like I'm looking at a 19-year-old kid that has all of a sudden come upon money and has been used to winning, used to being in the limelight . . . If it's all going to come out and hit him hard, I think this is a good thing."
They seriously believe that two games is tough love. Well, better a little love than none at all.
Not 50 feet away stood the man who, ultimately, decided how much love to give.
Cowering, while standing tall; hiding, in plain sight.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch