On a scale from zero to influencing the outcome of the United States presidential election, the Twitter dustup that threatens to engulf 76ers front-office boss Bryan Colangelo is small potatoes indeed.
Twitter is about to celebrate its 12th birthday and, like most adolescents, hasn't really become a responsible citizen yet, or grown beyond its infatuation with flatulence jokes, anonymous notes, and shameless self-promotion. Perhaps it will develop into a dependable adult someday, but more likely it will just roll along as the world's leading depository of misinformation and pictures of someone's food.
On the surface of the report involving Colangelo, it appears that the Sixers president of basketball operations has a lot of free time on his hands, and allegedly used it over the last two years to push a Twitter agenda designed to plump up his own image, tear down the legacy left by Sam Hinkie, ridicule some of his own players, and, of course, keep tabs on the Canadian high school basketball scene. Aside from the one about the yellow Lab birthing seven puppies in the Tampa airport, it's the damnedest Twitter-related story you've ever read.
It is also the end of Colangelo with the Sixers, even if it takes a while for the team to officially unfollow him. That's going to happen, though.
Between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the organization switched from letting Colangelo talk to talking about him instead.
"An online media outlet filed a story linking multiple social media accounts to 76ers President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo. The allegations are serious and we have commenced an independent investigation into the matter. We will report the results of that investigation as soon as it is concluded," the team said in a statement.
In other words, Bryan, ruh roh for you.
There is plenty to pick over about the story itself, including guessing the identity and motivation of the leaker who put Ben Detrick of The Ringer onto the trail of the five Twitter accounts that appear to be operated by Colangelo. According to the report, the source is an artificial intelligence nerd who simply stumbled onto similarities in the accounts using an "open-source data analysis tool." Yeah, that happens all the time.
Suffice it to say Colangelo has people who don't care for him, whether because he was the one who supplanted Hinkie, or because he is not always kind to underlings, or because his manner, which is frequently defensive and a tad insecure, isn't all that likable. So who knows whether it is a Hinkiebot still embedded in the analytics side of the organization, or some disgruntled former employee, or a Process believer out there with a working knowledge of writing code and probably not much of a social life.
Doesn't really matter. There is too much smoke for there not to be a fire here. The idea that this could be an elaborate gotcha stretching back more than two years, a "Paul is dead" hoax with Colangelo as the barefoot victim in the funeral procession, strains credulity.
No, this is weird and sort of unexplainable because it's just so dumb, but the story hangs together, and whether it was Colangelo or some social media war dog of his doing the actual tweeting, the result is the same. The accounts demeaned Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, Hinkie, and Brett Brown behind a screen of anonymity and with information from inside the franchise. The NBA will do something about it if the Sixers don't.
Oddly, the whole thing has accomplished something that couldn't have been anticipated: I feel sorry for Bryan Colangelo. This clearly wouldn't have been an easy situation for anyone hired to rein in Hinkie, and whose arrival led the former general manager to vacate in a give-me-liberty-or-give-me-lecturing-at-Stanford move that deeply divided the fans.
Add that to Colangelo's natural touchiness about being considered merely Jerry's son, and you have fertile soil where someone might actually plant a campaign to alter the narrative about himself. If that is as it appears, it's kind of sad.
The reach and ease of Twitter makes this possible, in some ways. What if it were 20 years ago? What would someone have to do — call in to a radio talk show and disguise his voice? Write a letter to the editor?
But Twitter is just the weapon. It still takes a soldier willing to wield it for his own purposes. There might be 50,000 Russian bots gearing up for the midterm elections right now. All things are possible and readily believable. After all, until Tuesday night, we had heard most everything already. This, however, was a new one.