CHICAGO - Sam Hinkie had just been named the president and general manager a couple of weeks before he and I sat down to talk at the Quest Multisport Complex in Chicago, which was hosting the rookie combine. Before we could even exchange pleasantries or I could get out a question, Hinkie offered: "So, you want to know about my background as a player, right?"
Not really, was my thought, because I had already done a little bit of checking on that. But Hinkie offered that he played ball in high school, could have played at the Division III level, or maybe even had been a walk-on in Division I. Remarkably smart, Hinkie decided instead to concentrate on his studies, and graduated summa cum laude with a perfect 4.0 GPA from the University of Oklahoma and also earned an MBA from Stanford, where he graduated with highest honors as an Arjay Miller Scholar.
In the end, all the smarts in the world, and Hinkie appears to have them, couldn't keep him from losing the president and general manager job with the 76ers. It seems he just couldn't overcome the perception that he wasn't enough of a basketball guy.
Jerry Colangelo was roaming the hallways of the United Center Wednesday before the Sixers faced the Chicago Bulls in what, thankfully, was the final game of the season. It was a week ago Wednesday that Hinkie sent out a 13-page, rambling and somewhat confusing resignation letter to the owners and Colangelo. Since then, Colangelo's son, Bryan, has been named director of basketball operations and Jerry has moved to an advisory role from his title of chairman of basketball operations.
Speaking to the Philly media for the first time since all that transpired, Colangelo reiterated the company line, saying that he and ownership wanted Hinkie to stay on board, that it was the plan all along and that they were very surprised that he left.
I asked Colangelo what Hinkie's biggest strengths were. There was a long pause, then Colangelo repeated the question before saying: "You know, I didn't know much about his basketball background itself. I found out he played some. He believes that he has a basketball background, but . . . His intelligence is off the charts, and the analytical part of it is off the charts. He's a good man. He's a good guy. But he felt that he was hired to do a job and he had a couple of roles as president and GM and if that was going to change, he just didn't feel comfortable sticking with it. I respect that."
It doesn't appear there is much respect as far as Hinkie's firsthand knowledge of the game. Jerry Colangelo played basketball and earned All-Big Ten honors at Illinois. Bryan was a high school star and played his college basketball at Cornell. He was the MVP of an AAU team that included Mark Price.
Basketball guys, through and through. Analytics? Sure the Colangelos, and maybe even coach Brett Brown, believe there is a place for them. It's just doesn't appear to rule their world when it comes to running a basketball team. Not the way it did for Hinkie.
"The thought was, obviously, when ownership reached out and wanted me to be a part of the process, that was an indication that they had tired of three years of whatever they saw," said Jerry Colangelo. "So there was going to be a detour of some kind, and it was the conclusion that we needed to reinforce the front office. No one ever, ever had an intention of Sam being let go, fired or anything. That was never a consideration. Everyone was on the same page, including myself. This was more about bringing help into the organization, share responsibilities, and we would be a stronger front office.
"What I told Sam was, 'You need to listen to ownership. If you're listening, they're saying they want to do what they want to do.' So this means they're a little tired of the wait or the pain or whatever, which means the first step was when they brought me in, that was an indicator. And then the second step was they wanted to add someone in the front office, and they tried to retain Sam. I said to Sam, 'This would be great if you're willing and have someone come in here and share. We'd be stronger than heck.' Our front office would be out of sight, I thought. Sam made his own decision and I respect that. I respect the fact that he said, 'I can't do that.' That's what happened."
Whether prodded by the NBA or Jerry Colangelo or both, ownership decided that Hinkie needed help moving forward. Could it have meant his title would have been stripped? Would it have been an unfair demotion after all that he had done toward an unprecedented rebuild? Probably. But, ultimately, managing owner Josh Harris decided to go the safe route, one that included going with the basketball guys.
So Jerry says his role remains the same, sans the title given him on Dec. 7. Bryan probably will hire a new general manager and an assistant one, too, as he prepares to use the plentiful assets obtained by Hinkie. Analytics will still play a part moving forward, but probably not as much as when Hinkie was here.
"Here's where I am on all of this," Colangelo said. "I'm just kind of covering it, because that's what you all want to hear. But I'm done with it. I don't want to talk about it anymore. I think all that's important is that we now have someone in place who I think is going to do a great job for the Philadelphia 76ers."
A basketball someone.