Update, May 30: The Philadelphia 76ers announced Wednesday that they are investigating The Ringer’s report linking several Twitter accounts to president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo.
In February, The Ringer received an anonymous tip that Bryan Colangelo, the Philadelphia 76ers’ president of basketball operations, had been secretly operating five Twitter accounts. Since then, we have scrutinized and archived those accounts in an attempt to verify the source’s claims that the longtime NBA executive has been using them as a platform to:
- Criticize NBA players, including Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel
- Publicly debate the decisions of his own coaching staff, as well as critique former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie and Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri
- Telegraph the 2017 trade in which the Sixers acquired the no. 1 overall pick that would become Markelle Fultz
- Disclose nonpublic medical information about Okafor and gossip about Embiid and Fultz to members of the national and Philadelphia media
The five accounts pinpointed by the unnamed source included one that followed media members, Sixers employees, and NBA agents but never tweets (its handle is @phila1234567, and it has no account name), and four that have posted tweets or replied to other users. Of those, one was active between April 2016 and May 2017 (its account name is Eric jr, and its handle is @AlVic40117560), two were active within the past five months (HonestAbe / @Honesta34197118 and Enoughunkownsources / @Enoughunkownso1), and one was posting several times a day (Still Balling / @s_bonhams) and as recently as last week.
On Tuesday, May 22, I emailed the Sixers and shared the names of two of the accounts, phila1234567 and Eric jr (I did not disclose our suspicions about the other three accounts, one of which, Still Balling, had been active earlier that day; I did this to see whether the partial disclosure would trigger any changes to the other accounts). On a follow-up call that day, Philadelphia’s media representative told me that he would ask Colangelo whether he had any information about the two accounts.
That afternoon, within hours of the call, all three of the accounts I hadn’t discussed with the team switched from public to private, effectively taking them offline—including one (HonestAbe) that hadn’t been active since December. The Still Balling account, which had been tweeting daily, has not posted since the morning of the 22nd (I had already been following Still Balling with an anonymous account of my own, which allowed me to see activity after it went private). Since I contacted the Sixers, Still Balling has unfollowed 37 accounts with ties to Colangelo, including several of his son’s college basketball teammates, a former coach from his son’s high school, and an account that shares the same name as the agent Warren LeGarie, who has represented Colangelo in the past.
Later that day, the Sixers rep called back. He confirmed that one of the accounts (@Phila1234567) did, in fact, belong to Colangelo. He said that Colangelo denied any knowledge of the Eric jr account. When I asked whether he had discussed my inquiry with anyone else in the organization that afternoon, he said that he had spoken to only one person: Colangelo.
On Tuesday, May 29, I contacted the Sixers to ask about the seemingly linked nature of all five accounts. The team responded with a statement from Colangelo:
Like many of my colleagues in sports, I have used social media as a means to keep up with the news. While I have never posted anything whatsoever on social media, I have used the @Phila1234567 Twitter account referenced in this story to monitor our industry and other current events. This storyline is disturbing to me on many levels, as I am not familiar with any of the other accounts that have been brought to my attention, nor do I know who is behind them or what their motives may be in using them.
You can draw your own conclusions from the two exchanges: Not only did the Sixers confirm that Colangelo was the owner of one of the five accounts in question, but the three that were not mentioned simultaneously went dark shortly after he was told of The Ringer’s inquiry.
As we’ve seen with Kevin Durant’s Twitter blunder, Steve Kerr’s it-was-supposed-to-be-a-DM Twitter gaffe from earlier in the season, and the countless social media archaeological expeditions that occur whenever a young player enters the league, risky behavior on the platform is nothing new. The ultimate insiders, players, coaches, and executives are professionally vested in the conversations that swirl daily across social media—but they often can’t speak freely without kicking up a media haboob.
This situation might be different. With a 24-win improvement and an exhilarating run to the Eastern Conference semifinals this season, the Sixers were one the league’s feel-good stories. But behind all that could be the story of a team president who has spent the past two years using Twitter to anonymously spar with the media and defend Colangelo’s reputation. Most alarmingly, though, the Eric jr account urged members of the Sixers media to ask Okafor about a failed physical that the account alleges scuttled an in-the-works trade. This is information that has never been publicly reported. The accounts also might have tipped team strategy. Together, these acts, if true, could be severely damaging to Colangelo’s organization and amount to a huge breach of trust between him and the people he oversees.
The story begins with a direct message.
Our source, whose identity is still unknown, contacted me via anonymous “egg” accounts on both Instagram and Twitter, claiming that they had a scoop. The source explained that they worked in artificial intelligence and, after noticing a “bunch of weird tweets” directed at Sixers writers, used an open-source data analysis tool to link five accounts through commonalities including similarities in who the accounts followed and linguistic quirks.
“They all have a pattern of likes, follows, and tweets which are EXTRAORDINARILY similar,” the source wrote in a direct message on Twitter. For example, the source explained, all five follow accounts tied to Sixers players, members of the Philly front office, and beat reporters who cover the team; Toronto Raptors writers; Canadian high school basketball; and University of Chicago basketball. They discuss the same topics, use strikingly similar phrasing, and, at times, have tweeted out identical media images. Some of those shared attributes were odd, such as a distaste for beards and “unknown sources.” According to the source’s findings, the three newest accounts followed 75 accounts in common—roughly half of their total respective follows—with another 52 accounts followed by two of the three. (The Ringer was unable to verify those numbers, but they seem to track with our analysis.)
I was skeptical. As a strident critic of Colangelo’s hiring in Philadelphia and his team-building performance over the past two years, I understood why someone who was looking to portray the executive in an unflattering light would consider me an eager ally or a target for catfishing.
At first glance, I didn’t believe the accounts could be Colangelo. They were too inflammatory, too reckless. In posts ranging from April 2016 to last Tuesday, the accounts insulted the likes of Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz; criticized coach Brett Brown; and bashed executives such as Sam Hinkie and Toronto president Masai Ujiri. And, at every turn, the accounts relentlessly defended or promoted Colangelo.
The accounts claimed that Ben Simmons wouldn’t have come to Philadelphia if Colangelo hadn’t replaced Hinkie in the front office, accused Sixers bloggers of being biased Hinkie loyalists, and boasted that the critically panned December 2017 trade of Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas, and a second-round pick for Trevor Booker “sounds better and better.”
Several posts wandered from organizational matters, debating the size of Colangelo’s shirt collars. When user @Philly_Asshole commented on the executive’s well-documented sartorial preference, “This dude just love collars,” Enoughunkownsources responded, “That is a normal collar. Move on, find a new slant.”
Colangelo, 52, has worked in the NBA for almost three decades. His father, Jerry Colangelo, is the former owner of the Phoenix Suns and former chairman of USA Basketball, and has been a trusted colleague of current NBA commissioner Adam Silver and former commissioner David Stern. Bryan Colangelo was hired by the Suns in 1991 and, in 1995, became the general manager. He twice received the NBA Executive of the Year Award, once with the Suns and later with the Toronto Raptors.
The elder Colangelo joined the Sixers organization in late 2015—reportedly with encouragement from the NBA—to speed up Hinkie’s so-called “Process,” the slash-and-burn rebuild that amassed draft assets, cap space, and copious losses. Hinkie resigned near the end of that season, after learning that Bryan Colangelo was being hired to helm the Sixers.
Two years later, Hinkie is a basketball folk hero who set the team on the course to acquire promising young stars like Embiid, Simmons, and Dario Saric. Even as the Sixers have blossomed into an Eastern Conference power, Colangelo has drawn heavy criticism from fans. Most notably, for his trade with the Boston Celtics for the no. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, which netted the team Fultz, while the Celtics snagged a star in the making in Jayson Tatum and the Sacramento Kings’ lightly protected 2018 first-rounder.
Eric jr, the oldest account, was created in April 2016, the same month Colangelo was hired in Philadelphia. The user’s listed location is “South Philly,” home to the Wells Fargo Center. Eric jr’s bio describes its author as a “basketball lifer.” Its combination of tweets, retweets, and follows creates a Venn diagram that suggests one person behind the account.
“To me, there is no conceivable world where that is not Bryan Colangelo, himself,” the tipster told me. “Not his wife, not his son, not his dad.”
At one point, Eric jr followed 129 accounts, including members of the Sixers roster; members of the Sixers organization, ranging from CEO Scott O’Neil to sales associate Lexi Shipon to co-owner David B. Heller; and a swath of basketball-centric media, especially Sixers beat writers. (Eric jr has also followed The Ringer’s account and that of site founder Bill Simmons.)
Eric jr has also followed a number of accounts related to the University of Chicago men’s basketball team. Mattia Colangelo, Bryan’s son, enrolled at the school in 2016 and currently plays for the Maroons. Eric jr has followed four of Mattia Colangelo’s teammates. Eric jr and @Phila1234567 have also followed John-Paul Cavalluzzo, an educator in Vancouver and the former basketball, football, and track coach at Ontario’s Upper Canada College, the high school where Mattia Colangelo played until 2016. In a tweet from November 28, 2016, Cavalluzzo described Bryan Colangelo as “my mentor.” Colangelo, who was hired by the Raptors in 2006 and left the organization in 2013 after being stripped of his GM duties, lived in Ontario before taking the Sixers job.
All five accounts, at one point, followed a profile using the name Warren LeGarie, founder of the Las Vegas summer league and an agent who has represented Colangelo in the past.
One of the few non-basketball accounts followed by Eric jr is an Arizona man named Lawrence “LB” Bain. Bain’s Twitter bio lists his location as Paradise Valley, a small town in Maricopa County, Arizona, that is five miles from the address of JDM Partners LLC, a financial company where Jerry Colangelo is a partner. An SEC-filed prospectus from 2007 shows that Bryan Colangelo sold 25,000 shares of stock in ProLink Holdings Corp., a company that makes GPS golf-course management systems. On the document, Bain is listed as ProLink’s president and CEO. At the time of publication, Bain had only 53 Twitter followers, including both Eric jr and @Phila1234567, the account that the Sixers confirmed as belonging to Colangelo.
Another of Eric jr’s non-basketball follows is a designer named Holly Miklas, who has followed the account back. While working for the Raptors, Colangelo ran in the same rarefied Toronto social circles as Miklas. In 2012, he and his wife attended a benefit gala for Upper Canada College at the Royal Ontario Museum that was attended by Miklas and her husband. In 2013, both couples were among guests at another soiree, this time North York General Hospital’s Heart of Fashion fundraiser.
The second-oldest Eric jr post, from May 2016, is a retweet of a photo showing Colangelo talking with Maodo Lo, a German basketball player. The account was largely inactive until the fall of that year, when it retweeted two posts from Cavalluzzo, one praising Mattia as “a great student-athlete but an even better person” and another quoting DeMar DeRozan as saying Bryan’s “swag” was “always on a hundred.” Until late January 2017, usage was limited to likes and retweets, primarily for Embiid’s #NBAVote All-Star campaign.
Then the accounts started tweeting.
Despite Colangelo’s position, the accounts rarely focus on basketball strategy or statistics, nor show much interest in players aside from Sixers and superstars. In fact, most posts are ignored, scoffed at, or roasted by other Twitter users. While researching this story, I realized that I had muted the Still Balling account in the past.
Hinkie, who penned a 13-page resignation letter about team-building theory that included analogies about flightless birds from New Zealand, is a frequent target of vitriol from the accounts. “Funny how you remember his resignation letter, down to its paragraph,” Enoughunkownsources sneered in response to a post praising Hinkie. “I could not get pass the first page…”
The same account grumbled that the media was unfairly burnishing Hinkie’s reputation after leaving Philly. “I have no respect for Hinkie’s martyrdom bcs it is orchestrated by him behind the curtains via all the bloggers he cultivated with leaks,” Enoughunkownsources wrote in November.
Eric jr bristled at the perception that Hinkie deserved credit for turning around the franchise. “BC has done nothing but clean up hinkie’s mess,” the account wrote in January 2017. “Hinkie got great pieces but could [not] make the puzzle work.”
When a Sixers fan with the handle @T_Buecher320 posted an image of Hinkie’s head superimposed on a dancing body, Enoughunkownsources was triggered. “I just hate that Gif,” they groused.
Eric jr also criticized Ujiri, who was hired in 2013 by Toronto to replace Colangelo as general manager. Years ago, Colangelo brought Ujiri aboard as Toronto’s director of global scouting and, later, elevated him to serve as assistant GM from 2008 to 2010. After a stint in Denver as executive vice president of basketball operations, Ujiri returned to take Colangelo’s general manager position with the Raptors.
“Nothing seems to fall on Ujiri’s shoulders. Why?,” Eric jr wrote in February 2017, in response to a column about a bad Raptors loss. In another tweet, the account suggested that Toronto was successful because of players Colangelo had originally brought in, such as Kyle Lowry and DeRozan. “they are falling apart! Because nothing was done to make them a better team,” they wrote. “Coasting by on ‘trustfund’ money.”
He chafed at the lucrative long-term extension Ujiri signed in the fall of 2016. “You were resigned for 30+ millions this Summer, so yes! please Masai do something!” the account pleaded, feigning the persona of a Raptors booster.
In several cases, Eric jr abandoned the voice of a concerned fan and divulged specifics that appeared to put the user and Colangelo in the same place at the same time.
On February 10, 2017, they tweeted, “I hope the 7s rise up with different uniforms and not the one they are wearing tonight – it hurts my eyes to look at them.” That same day, the account for the Delaware 87ers (then the Sixers’ Development League franchise; a year after the circuit became the G League, the team changed its name to the Blue Coats) posted a photo of Colangelo at the game, wearing a headset and sitting with the broadcast team. “.@Sixers President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo joins Tom & Dei on @TCNPhilly live right now!” read the accompanying tweet. According to an advanced Twitter search, this is the only occasion the 87ers account has mentioned Colangelo and the only time any of the five accounts in this investigation referenced the 87ers.
In two responses to a February 2017 tweet from actress Gabrielle Union, who pointed out that Tom Brady didn’t visit the White House when Barack Obama was president, Eric jr went on the attack. “I sat NEXT to you and [Dwyane Wade] at Beijing Olympics and saw you both being rude nasty to little kid fan,” the account said. “Had to eat yr pizza. … You showed no respect to this little kid, who are you to stand on high grounds? Never looked at DW the same after that.” During the 2008 Olympics, Jerry Colangelo, then the managing director of the U.S. men’s national basketball team, was in Beijing.
We were unable to confirm that Bryan Colangelo was in a restaurant with Wade and Union during the Beijing Olympics; after publication on Tuesday night, we were alerted to a mention of Colangelo in attendance at the Games in the book Return of the Gold by Dan Bickley. Also, he was associated with Team USA; according to his NBA.com bio, Colangelo joined the USA Basketball Men’s Senior National Program Advisory Panel in 2005, “charged with selecting teams for the 2006 FIBA World Championship (Saitama, Japan), 2007 FIBA Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament (Las Vegas, USA) and the 2008 Olympics (Beijing, China).”
These coincidences have drawn suspicion from other Twitter users. On one occasion, when someone jokingly replied to one of the accounts with, “This you, Bryan?,” Enoughunkownsources claimed to know Colangelo. “No – but thanks for the compliment!” they answered. “He is too classy to even engage. Worked with him: he is a class act.”
On May 22, six days after the results of the 2017 NBA lottery were announced, Still Balling liked a tweet that advocated sending the no. 3 pick and the 2018 Lakers pick to Boston for the top selection, but without including Dario Saric. If rival teams were aware of this account, it had publicly broadcast the Sixers’ strategy a full month before the NBA draft.
Most disturbingly, the accounts have repeatedly disclosed potentially damaging information about Sixers players, including Okafor, Noel, Embiid, and, most recently, Fultz. The accounts routinely challenge journalists to report these negative claims and, in some cases, have pushed writers to ask players specific questions or to contact the organization to set up interviews. In every example, the accounts have pursued an agenda of absolving Colangelo of blame while vilifying Sixers players.
Much of the Sixers’ 2016-17 season was consumed by a logjam at center that included three lottery picks. Shortly before the trade deadline, Okafor was held out of games against Miami (February 11) and Charlotte (February 13). “There were trade rumors that were happening before the game,” Brown said at the time. “In those situations, I felt that it was best to not complicate things and not play Jahlil.”
On February 12, while Okafor was home in Philadelphia as the team traveled, a writer for the blog The Sixers Sense named Brian Jacobs posted a highlight from then-Pistons guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Eric jr replied, seemingly off topic, “I must be nuts, I cannot sleep because I worry Jah will not pass physical exams and sent back.” The next day, Jacobs posted a prospective trade that would ship Okafor to the Pelicans for E’Twaun Moore and a pick. Eric jr responded again. “I feel it in my bones, deal was done and Jah did not pass physical,” the account wrote. “Let’s wait & see, only possibility at this point.”
When Okafor rejoined the Sixers in Boston on February 15, Colangelo was criticized for creating an embarrassing situation for the second-year center. From that point onward, Eric jr (and other accounts) consistently claimed, dozens of times, that a deadline deal involving Okafor was derailed by a failed physical. A source tangential to the prospective trade told me that he wasn’t sure why the transaction never went through, but necessary paperwork had been drawn up and “the expectation was that the trade would be completed.”
Most of the tweets were directed toward basketball journalists and often tried to goad them into investigating the otherwise unreported allegation. “Ask Jah If he passed other team physical?” Eric jr tweeted at Keith Pompey, a Sixers beat writer for Philly.com. “I bet the farm it’s what’s happened.” The account made a similar suggestion to Jacobs. “Ask Jah If this is the truth? … You are a pretty established writer/blogger. Ask team for interview.”
One source familiar with Okafor trade negotiations between the Sixers and the New Orleans Pelicans told The Ringer that the source was not aware of any failed physical for Okafor, and that the deal fell through because Colangelo and Pelicans general manager Dell Demps could not agree on pick protections.
The anti-Okafor campaign resumed early in the 2017-18 season, this time from a different account, when it was reported that Okafor wanted to be traded out of Philadelphia (he was eventually dealt to Brooklyn in December; he would have had to have passed a physical at that time for the deal to have gone through). “Nobody wants him,” Enoughunkownsources posted in a pair of responses to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “Last year he was traded and sent back because he didn’t pass physicals. He asked FO not to let the info out…Still the FO is not leaking the truth to save face, Okafor abusing that. If the truth came out Okafor would be the one looking bad.”
Colangelo also took heat when Noel was sent to Dallas at the 2017 deadline for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and an announced “first-round pick” that was almost certain to convey as two second-rounders. The accounts didn’t attempt to defend the modest return; instead, they described Noel as a “selfish punk” who was “behaving like a vulture.” Noel was traded, the accounts asserted, because the Sixers’ head coach disliked him. “Bret Brown wanted NN gone,” Enoughunkownsources posted in November 2017. “Bad for locker room. Once again Colangelo protected coach and got sh@t on for it. Bc is class act not a bad guy.”
Even this season, with Noel exiled to the bench in Dallas, the accounts continued to bad-mouth the former Sixer. In April, Still Balling wrote, “Do you remember how Noel ELECTED sto have hand surgery at the beginning of the season? … Then he went down south to rehab (did not stay with team and teammates) and was caught playing laser tag instead of being careful?”
Embiid, an All-Star center who has nicknamed himself “The Process,” is also a favorite subject of the accounts. After cheerleading for him early in the 2016-17 season, Eric jr turned on the then-rookie center near the All-Star break. At the time, Colangelo faced criticism for allowing Embiid to play in a nationally televised game against Houston with a minor meniscus tear (ultimately, the injury required surgery and ended his season).
The accounts insisted that Embiid had hidden the injury from the Sixers and asked to play against the Rockets. On February 10, Eric jr directed a tweet at Embiid’s own Twitter account: “Joel, you are just a kid, but why didn’t you tell docs knees hurt before Houston? You costed yrself (&us) 9+ games and play-offs.”
He grew incensed when Embiid took the stage and danced shirtless at a Meek Mill concert while sidelined by that injury. “Too bad that Embiid danced like a fool and the whole disaster happened, next time he will think twice before mocking his team,” Eric jr wrote on February 14, 2017. The account reacted with ire in another post. “If I were mngt I would step on a ladder and kick his b#**,” they wrote. (Nine months later, the Enoughunkownsources account employed similar phrasing: “If I had a medium size ladder I would love to knock some sense in Joel’s head right now,” the account wrote in November. “He is playing like a toddler having tantrums.”) As usual, Eric jr encouraged journalists to write about Embiid’s behavior. “He should be called out on this,” the account tweeted at Derek Bodner, a Sixers writer who now works for The Athletic, “nobody has the guts to do it.”
At the time, Colangelo shared opinions with reporters that were muted but critical. “It’s not the best thing to see when you wake up on Saturday morning,” he said of Embiid’s presence on stage with Meek. “I understand some of the potential concern out there. … Perhaps he crossed a line, perception-wise.”
In recent months—particularly since Simmons’s emergence as a formidable talent—the accounts became increasingly hostile toward Embiid. Earlier this season, HonestAbe compared him unfavorably to the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis. “I am a Philly fan but out trade The process for The Unicorn in a heart bit,” the account wrote. “Such a smarter player.” And, in response to a Sixers Nation post about Embiid committing a foul, Enoughunkownsources replied: “I am sure it is hard for him ‘to process’ the fact, that this is now Ben’s team. So he is acting up. This ego foul is costing us big!”
Other times, Embiid was described as “a bit lazy,” “selfish,” and “acting like a tool,” and accused of partying too much. “Ben is going to be better than Joel@snd less distracted by models and social media,” Still Balling wrote in October 2017, in response to Sixers Nation.
In January, in a tweet directed at the Twitter accounts of Simmons and Robert Covington, Still Balling tore into Embiid. “I am not voting for Joel, but I am voting for Ben at every change I get,” they wrote. “I love his intensity, his passion and the pride for his team. Joel is a big selfish baby, not my leader anymore.”
For much of this season, Colangelo was battered for his handling of Fultz, the University of Washington guard he traded up to acquire with the top selection in the 2017 NBA draft. The rookie played only 17 games during the campaign, and spent the majority of his debut season sidelined with a mysterious condition—suggested by some to be a shoulder injury and others to be more of a mental block—that robbed him of his ability to shoot a basketball.
The accounts, though, peddle an alternative story that blames Fultz and Keith Williams, his family friend and longtime trainer. “If somebody would care to go look for the story of what happened with his so called mentor/father figure… it would explain a lot about the shoulder and Fultz ‘ state of mind,” Still Balling wrote in a thread responding to a December post from Bodner. “The so call mentor tried to force him to change the shot. Tapes have surfaced of the guy making Markelle shooting while sitting on a chair, while on his back on the floor etc. The guy denies it as doesn’t want to say Y was forced out of kid’s life. Y nobody reports this.”
In early February, in a response to Marshall Harris, at the time of NBC Sports Philadelphia, Still Balling wrote, of Fultz, “Supposedly he just had some really traumatic family personal experience which really messed him up, probably just needs some time to process (☺️) and heal.”
In one particularly bizarre tweet, Still Balling even accused Brown of sidelining Fultz in order to sabotage the team. “I think that it would shorten Brett’s rope on ‘why we lost’ alibi,” the account wrote in a response to a tweet from Sixers announcer Marc Zumoff. “So Brett would rather keep him out.”
It’s unfair to view the unbridled id of anonymous tweets as an accurate representation of a user’s real worldview, but patterns emerge when one combs through thousands of their replies, retweets, and likes. Along with the smear campaigns and disclosures of information, the owner of these accounts, on occasion, voices opinions about social issues that an NBA executive would hesitate to share publicly.
Bryan Colangelo is not a particularly vocal front office executive. He doesn’t regularly appear on sports radio or podcasts, or give routine updates about the state of the team, like some of his peers—Danny Ainge, Daryl Morey, and Rob Pelinka, to name just a few. This is ironic, considering one of the main criticisms of Colangelo’s predecessor, Hinkie, was that he was too poker-faced in his dealings with the fans and media.
This kind of situation would have been unthinkable 15 years ago. But as we see repeatedly, in cases of social media faux pas and fiascos, the internet affords a certain level of anonymity, but can also be the tool that undoes that very sense of privacy. These accounts could exist only in the fog of 2018, when the line between personal and public, private and anonymous, authentic and unreal is vanishingly thin.
This piece was updated with additional information after publication.