Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and his wife Barbara Bottini have both been interviewed as part of an investigation into their ties to Twitter burner accounts that disparaged players, coaches and executives, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who also reported a decision on Colangelo’s future could come from team ownership as soon as Wednesday.
Investigators from Paul/Weiss, a law firm the Sixers hired this week to resolve this drama, interviewed Colangelo and Bottini “separately for several hours Sunday and Monday,” according to Wojnarowski.
Colangelo has repeatedly denied any association with the burner accounts that disclosed medical information about lottery picks Jahlil Okafor and Markelle Fultz in addition to criticizing Sixers star Joel Embiid, coach Brett Brown and former general manager Sam Hinkie. The team president has also denied any knowledge of his wife’s involvement. Bottini has yet to address the matter publicly.
The allegations against Bryan Colangelo
Working off an anonymous tip from someone who “worked in artificial intelligence” and “used an open-source data analysis tool” to discover similarities among five anonymous Twitter accounts, most of which defended Colangelo against criticism from Sixers fans, bloggers and media members, The Ringer’s Ben Detrick published a story last week tying the executive to the accounts in question.
In addition to disparaging Embiid, Brown and Colangelo’s front-office predecessors in Toronto and Philadelphia, among other current and former Sixers, the accounts shared sensitive information about the shoulder woes that have plagued Fultz and a failed physical that voided an Okafor trade.
Similar information was anonymously posted from a Disqus account to the comment sections of the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Sixer Sense and other websites. Colangelo told The Ringer he operated one of the Twitter accounts in question. He has repeatedly denied any prior knowledge of the others.
The alleged involvement of Barbara Bottini
In the aftermath of The Ringer story, internet sleuths linked an email address belonging to Bottini and her phone number — both available online — to three of the alleged burner accounts using Twitter’s password recovery feature function. Others drew a line from Bottini’s Italian heritage to the accounts’ interest in Italian studies and their defense of Colangelo’s oversized Italian shirt collars.
The Athletic’s Rich Hofmann also uncovered evidence that suggests someone was tweeting from one of the burner accounts while Colangelo delivered a press conference prior to a February 2017 game.
Since three of the suspected accounts turned private in the hour after The Ringer requested comment from Colangelo for the story, he is suspected of intimate knowledge of their existence and operators.
The consequences for Colangelo
Soon after the story’s publication this past Tuesday, Colangelo told Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania that night that he knew only of the one burner account he operated and was unaware of the “motives or origins” of the other four in question. A day later, he told Yahoo’s Jordan Schultz via text message, “Someone’s out to get me. … This is clearly not me.” Colangelo hoped to resolve the situation “soon.”
In between, the 76ers announced an investigation into the matter, and Colangelo was reportedly reaching out to players, coaches and executives cited online, telling them he was not responsible.
Anything other than the investigation completely absolving Colangelo from any involvement and uncovering an elaborate scheme to frame the Sixers president would likely damage his reputation beyond repair, even if it is revealed that Bottini or another close confidante was behind the accounts.
According to Wojnarowski, the 76ers are considering firing Colangelo and are now “reluctant to separate [him] from any family member or close associate responsible for this embarrassing episode.” The team’s owners reportedly conducted an hours-long meeting on Tuesday to discuss results from the Paul/Weiss investigation and determine Colangelo’s future. A decision is expected soon.
If Colangelo does not survive the investigation as team president, this month’s draft duties will fall on assistant general managers Marc Eversley and Ned Cohen, according to Wojnarowski. Brown and newly hired assistant coach Monty Williams will reportedly be called upon to help Philadelphia’s free agency pitches to LeBron James, Paul George and others this summer. Colangelo has run the team since 2016.
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