The Philadelphia 76ers have hired a law firm to further investigate president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo’s alleged association with five Twitter accounts that disclosed sensitive information about current and former members of the organization, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
As quickly as the coming days, the team reportedly expects to resolve the drama that has followed the franchise since The Ringer published a story last week linking Colangelo to a series of burner accounts defending the longtime NBA executive against online criticism, while sharing previously undisclosed insight into the physical and mental well-being of players Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz.
The 76ers hired Paul/Weiss, the same firm that investigated the alleged financial improprieties that led to former executive director Billy Hunter’s exit from the National Basketball Players Association.
According to Wojnarowski, the investigation into Colangelo reportedly centers on the connection between Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, and the Twitter accounts in question, and the firm has hired “cyberintelligence consultants” to examine the team president’s phones and electronic devices.
The allegations against Bryan Colangelo
In February, The Ringer’s Ben Detrick got a tip from someone who “worked in artificial intelligence” and “used an open-source data analysis tool” to discover similarities among five Twitter accounts, most of which defended Colangelo against criticism from Sixers fans, bloggers and media members.
That defense knew no end, disparaging Sixers star Joel Embiid and coach Brett Brown, among others; disclosing medical info about Philadelphia lottery picks Markelle Fultz and Jahlil Okafor; ridiculing current Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri (who replaced Colangelo in 2013) and former 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie (who Colangelo replaced in 2016); and praising Colangelo’s shirt collars.
Similar information was anonymously posted from a Disqus account to the comment sections of the Philadelphia Inquirer and The Sixer Sense, among other websites. Colangelo admitted to operating one of the Twitter accounts in question. He has repeatedly denied any prior knowledge to 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 knowing both that they existed and who ran them.
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.
Per 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.” It sure sounds like the resolution Colangelo seeks soon could come from the law firm’s investigation this week.
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