When Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie resigned last week, he left a written 13-page exit letter/manifesto to investors that quoted neurosurgeon Atul Gawande, misquoted Abraham Lincoln and, most shocking of all, did not end in the sentence “Anyway, so that’s why I bombed that hospital.”
Hinkie had blown up a barely okay 76ers team three years ago in the quest to become a historically bad team on purpose, and boy howdy, did it work. Philadelphia has become basketball’s suck city in full force since his reign began.
Like in that “South Park” episode where Phase 1 is to Collect Underpants, Phase 3 is Profit, and Phase 2 is “???”—the Sixers did a hell of a job with Step 1. Hinkie devotees called it “The Process.”
The team won 19 games in 2014, 18 in 2015, and they’re slated to win 10 this year with one game left. That’d be the second worst non-lockout record in NBA history.
But here’s the thing: 76ers fans want Hinkie back.
Hell, they don’t just want him back. They’re straight up inconsolable.
“I’ve been pissed off most of the time since the announcement,” said Michael Baumann, who writes for SBNation’s Liberty Ballers.
The Philadelphia Inquirer said, in a headline this week, that Hinkie’s holdouts “Really Are a Cult.” One guy, before he took a half-court shot at the Guantanamo Bay-lite that is a Sixers home game, was forced to flip a homemade Hinkie jersey inside-out before he tossed it.
It is hard to express how disconsolate these people are over a guy who, by any traditional win-loss basketball metric, had the worst tenure of all-time as an NBA general manager.
But let’s hear these dissidents out. They’ve got a point.
“What happened last week was the joke we passed around—this idea that was so absurdly crappy, we didn’t think it was actually gonna happen,” said Baumann. “Then it did.”
Baumann is a professional baseball writer, a lifelong Sixers fan and contributor to Liberty Ballers, the biggest Sixers website there is. He has, by his own admission, lost his marbles over the news of Hinkie’s resignation. He’s taken up the torch of the people who are “knowingly a self-parody of ‘Process’ trusters” on the website.
To him, this is a bigger thing than just the way he watched a basketball team.
“This was the first time the Sixers had done anything in my lifetime that wasn’t just striving for the middle of the road. It was a plan,” he said.
Here was that plan, laid bare: Fail badly. Get a ton of high draft picks, who will turn into players on mandated smaller contracts. You can re-sign them on the cheap until the team is good. Take on other teams’ bad contracts in the meantime and, in return for paying off those guaranteed deals, acquire more underpa… I mean, draft picks. Eventually, you’re going to have a ton of 18-to-24-year-olds on your roster. (There was a time earlier in the season where nobody on the team was 25 or older.)
Some of them, by basic math, have to be pretty good. The goal, by the end of the three-to-four-year run of being very bad, is to be great. Not just okay, but great.
Instead, the front office got impatient. It wasn’t Year 4 yet, but Year 3 was a disaster. Their three best players all play center, a position the league’s best team, the Warriors, decided doesn’t make sense in a modern NBA. One of those centers is off in Europe for his second straight year, getting weird stuff injected into his knee. And they won 10 games, remember?
So those front office dudes—old men with a lot more money than years left to live, even while drinking the imported blood of innocent children—installed an old NBA front office legend, Jerry Colangelo, to “mentor” and “work with” Hinkie earlier this year.
Hinkie saw the writing on the wall last week and skipped town. Within hours, Colangelo had installed his son, Bryan, to run the team.
Sounds worse now, huh?
Baumann was ripshit. All of his colleagues were ripshit. They all saw it coming from a mile away, but never thought Colangelo would have the balls to do it.
The team’s largest website has since become a manic protest fan zine devoted to the destruction of the team itself. Baumann wrote an article this weekend that was supposed to be a game recap of the Sixers’ loss to Milwaukee. Instead, he replaced every verb with what Colangelo had done—“Took Over the Team Via Skype, Hired His Son and Ran Away.”
The story, for example, is called “Sixers Take Over the Team Via Skype, Hire Their Son and Run Away to Milwaukee, 109-108.”
It is not subtle. The whole page is vandalized with hate for Philly’s favorite team, and there’s no end in sight. Check out this headline gem from Monday morning: “Sixers’ Joshua Harris, Jerry Colangelo are either lying, incompetent or both.”
“The bargaining and acceptance phases of grief are yet to come,” Baumann said. “There are about 15 guys writing for the site and more than half of us are like, ‘We’re gonna go root for another team now.’ This is such a betrayal.”
This news is, however, getting the best out of a Philly fanbase that hadn’t been acting much like a Philly fanbase. These are the people—and they absolutely love to be reminded of this, trust me—who threw batteries at Santa Claus during an Eagles game once. Hell hath no fury like a Philly fan drunk and/or scorned.
“We’re going to enjoy being in a position where we can crap on the front office again—and being Jerry Colangelo’s biggest critic,” he said. “Maybe some of us are better suited to criticize something awful?”
It is a full-on revolt for an idea even Baumann admits was destructive and probably bad for the rest of the NBA, had it worked.
“There was a lot of stuff about ‘The Process’ I didn’t like from a political perspective. It’s probably amoral. It’s the late capitalism, Wall Street, Silicon Valley way of building a company. Would I be defending it so vociferously if it wasn’t the Sixers? Probably not,” he said. “But it was a real plan, and it was a large part of our identity as fans.”
Then the letter dropped. Hinkie left a 13-page manifesto on the email doorstep of the Sixers’ investors, a final fuck-you on the way out. The thing quotes Elon Musk and references an extinct flightless bird from New Zealand called the moa (PDF).
The sports press ate it up. Something weird from a man in a suit!
Then, days later, it came out that exit emails like this from executives are pretty normal. Maybe not 13-page ones that cite Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck, but exit emails are a real thing. It was clearly a plot to discredit Hinkie and make him look megalomaniacal.
“It did come off as a little megalomaniacal,” Baumann admitted. “There’s a lot of stuff that Hinkie wrote that one could say was confusing, or that he was quoting people for wisdom that wasn’t his own. But there is also a clarity of vision.
“Hinkie’s not a basketball person. He didn’t talk like people who had power. The whole Colangelo experiment has been a fascinating—a class in incentives, moral hazard, people who ostensibly work in an organization or community who will bend what they believe or say in their own pursuit of power.”
Sounds awfully like the political movements—both right and left—that are going on today, doesn’t it?
“Yes, but the stakes are unimaginably lower,” said Baumann. “Look, if we fell for this—if he was a snake-oil salesman—it’s because we’re so starved for anybody with patience or vision after years of all of these traditional basketball people leaving us with mediocrity.”
Now, one way or another, the team statistically has to get better. And it will. The guy with the intercontinental injections will arrive next year. They’ll have another top-4 pick, guaranteed. Another European 7-footer is coming over to compete for minutes with the other three best players on the team.
Things are turning around in Philly, and the fanbase is not going to let this snowjob work without credit going to their cult leader, Sam Hinkie. This place didn’t let Santa off the hook.
Imagine what it’ll be like when somebody actually plots a takeover of their Sixers—and tries to get away with it.
You don’t have to imagine. If the Liberty Ballers’ internal email chain, allegedly one of the most vitriolic in existence, is any indication, Jerry and Bryan Colangelo will never get away with it.
“We were instructed to get a little creative, get a little angry,” said Baumann. “It’s tough to get all the reasons that this is shitty into one sentence, but I think I’m finally nailing that down.”