The Philadelphia 76ers are investigating whether team president Bryan Colangelo used a variety of Twitter accounts to anonymously trash some of his own players and fellow executives and defend himself against criticism from fans and the sports media.
The allegations, reported Tuesday by the sports website The Ringer, raised questions about Colangelo's future and that of the NBA team itself, a rising franchise heading into perhaps its most important summer ever as it tries to attract free agents to contend for championships.
The five Twitter accounts under suspicion took aim at Philadelphia players Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz, former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie, Toronto Raptors executive Masai Ujiri and former Sixers players Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, according to The Ringer.
Among other things, the user or users of the accounts complained that Embiid, the 24-year-old All-Star centre, was "playing like a toddler having tantrums" and was "a bit lazy," "selfish" and "acting like a tool."
The user of one of the accounts claimed to know Colangelo and described him more than once as a "class act." The tweets also raised the question of whether Colangelo used the anonymous accounts to divulge team strategy and details about players' medical conditions.
Colangelo acknowledged using one of the accounts to monitor the NBA industry and other current events but said he wasn't familiar with the four others.
"The allegations are serious and we have commenced an independent investigation into the matter," the Sixers said Wednesday in a statement. "We will report the results of that investigation as soon as it is concluded."
Embiid, Philly's franchise star, made a few wisecracks about the furore for his 1.4 million Twitter followers before standing up for Colangelo.
"All jokes asides I don't believe the story," he tweeted. "That would be just insane."
The Ringer said it had been monitoring the accounts since February, when it received an anonymous tip. It said it found numerous connections among the accounts that suggested the same person was behind them.
The Ringer said it initially asked the Sixers about just two of the accounts, and the same day the three others were suddenly made private.
For the Sixers, the first order of business is determining whether the accounts are, in fact, Colangelo's.
The Sixers had at least 20 impostor accounts shut down this season with people pretending to be Colangelo, a person familar with the investigation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the probe is not over.
If the investigation shows that Colangelo is in any way connected to the accounts, the organisation's reputation would be heavily damaged as it tries to chase big free agents like LeBron James, Paul George or other All-Stars.
Colangelo, the son of longtime sports executive Jerry Colangelo, was hired as president of basketball operations in 2016 after Hinkie abruptly resigned. Hinkie was the architect behind what the team calls The Process — the long-term tearing down and rebuilding of the Sixers.
Colangelo previously served as Raptors general manager. He lost his job there after Toronto missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, and Ujiri took over basketball operations.
According to The Ringer, one of the Twitter accounts it connected to Colangelo bristled at the suggestion that Hinkie deserved credit for the Sixers' turnaround.
"BC has done nothing but clean up hinkie's mess," the account user wrote in January 2017, referring to Colangelo. Another post lamented that Ujiri hadn't done anything to make the Raptors better.
Colangelo has been blamed by Philly fans for the so-far disastrous deal that brought Fultz to the Sixers. One of the accounts that The Ringer linked to Colangelo blamed Fultz's poor performance on his longtime trainer and his "so called mentor/father figure."
Colangelo was likewise criticised when Noel was sent to the Dallas Mavericks in 2017. The Twitter accounts defended the trade, describing Noel as a "selfish punk" who was "behaving like a vulture" and was "bad for locker room."
"Bc is class act not a bad guy," the Twitter user added.