Sam Hinkie is a very smart man. We knew that long before reading the 13-page resignation letter he delivered to 76ers team ownership on Wednesday evening, a rather amazing document that references everything from the teachings of Warren Buffett to the fate of the flightless moa on the south island of New Zealand.
Hinkie is also smart enough to know that 13-page letters sent to a dozen people are not going to remain private these days. Even so, the speed with which this one went public was such that the source is more likely the sender than the receivers. We have read Hinkie's manifesto - which links his mission and his methods with those of the great doers and thinkers of the ages - because he wanted us to read it.
What I can't decide is whether the letter is an application for his next job or a plea for Sixers ownership to lose the scales that have formed over their eyes and recognize the scorned genius they are allowing to walk out the door. It has to be one or the other, or else a statement he wished to enter into the historical record: "Here is what I did, and time will judge me far better than have you."
Somehow, while bringing us the thoughts of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Charlie Munger, Hinkie missed Nathan Hale, another revolutionary who dared operate behind enemy lines and was also hanged for his trouble. That is how Hinkie positions himself, as a revolutionary whose acts have brought the Sixers to the very verge of freedom but who won't be around to share the rewards because the empire finally caught up to him.
The empire is the NBA and, by extension, whatever forces led owner Josh Harris and his partners to hire Jerry Colangelo, the most insider of league insiders, to say, "All right. Enough is enough." Harris got tired of something. Maybe it was the losing. Maybe it was the messages emanating from the league office that his general manager didn't return calls to important people. Maybe he got tired of his doorman giving him crap. Who knows? We know he got tired of riding in the dark with Sam Hinkie at the wheel.
"So often a new management regime looks at an organization and decides that the primary goal is to professionalize the operation. For you, I hope that doesn't happen next," Hinkie wrote. "As I described to you in our first ever board meeting, we were fundamentally aiming for something different - disruption. We should concentrate our efforts in a few key areas in ways others had proven unwilling . . . a goal that lofty is anything but certain. And it sure doesn't come from those that are content to color within the lines."
Well, that's really it. If you boil down the whole gumbo - getting past the coming harvest of the seeds, the eternal "zugzwang" in which most NBA franchises are mired, the "conviction to separate" from the herd, and the enduring allure of the BlackBerry keyboard - that is what remains in the bottom of the pot. Jerry Colangelo will color inside the lines. Sam Hinkie, on the other hand, is willing to ignore the lines. You, the owners, have chosen lines.
"The illusion of control is an opiate, though," Hinkie warned, although he didn't get around to referencing Karl Marx, either. "In some decisions, the uncertainties are savage. You have to find a way to get comfortable with that range of outcomes. If you can't, you're forced to live with many fewer options to choose amongst which leads over the long term to lesser and lesser outcomes."
In other words, everything he has done - including the acquisition of three high-risk centers - might turn out wrong. He's fine with that, even if his bosses became less comfortable with the uncertainty and moved toward decision-makers who are more predictable.
"Given all the changes to our organization, I no longer have the confidence that I can make good decisions on behalf of investors in the Sixers - you. So I should step down. And I have," Hinkie wrote.
Substitute "can" with "will be allowed to" in that first sentence and the meaning is more clear. Colangelo has said it is time to shoot off the fireworks Hinkie has been stashing in the garage, and that will ultimately clash with Hinkie's 10,000 Year Clock.
"I am not attuned to this environment, and I don't want to spoil a decent record by trying to play a game I don't understand just so I can go out a hero," Hinkie wrote, quoting Buffett.
We'll leave aside for the moment the relative decency of Hinkie's record to this point, or whether his letter was anything more than a pouting farewell to those who didn't appreciate the brilliance of his vision.