Bryan Colangelo, the president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers, has been accused of running several anonymous Twitter accounts, some of which were posting sensitive team information.
The accusations, which Colangelo denied, came in the sports website The Ringer. An anonymous tip led to an examination of the similarities among five Twitter accounts: which accounts they followed and the way in which their posts were phrased.
Often referred to as burner accounts, these anonymous accounts came to the forefront when Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors admitted to maintaining accounts from which he had criticized his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates. The ruse was revealed when he mistakenly posted a reply from his main @KDTrey5 account.
In Colangelo’s case, the situation appears to be more serious than Durant revealing himself to have a rather thin skin to criticism. Some of the posts he is accused of making are fairly innocuous, like ones defending his clothing choices or questioning the contract extension of Masai Ujiri, the executive who replaced Colangelo with the Toronto Raptors. But there are also posts revealing sensitive team information, including Jahlil Okafor having failed a physical that scuttled a trade — something the team never publicly revealed — and ones criticizing the team’s own players, including Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz.
Embiid, who was drafted by Colangelo’s predecessor, Sam Hinkie, responded to the story in his typical indirect manner, resulting in a flurry of replies from fans, most of which referenced Colangelo.
Embiid then acknowledged the accusations in comments he made to ESPN.
“I talked to him and he said that he didn’t say that,” Embiid said. “He called me just to deny the story. Gotta believe him until proven otherwise. If true though, that would be really bad.”
The situation was so unusual, that other executives began commenting on it, including Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, and Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks.
While denying ownership of the accounts that posted troublesome material, Colangelo, through a statement to The Ringer, did acknowledge that he had one anonymous account.
“Like many of my colleagues in sports, I have used social media as a means to keep up with the news,” the statement said. “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 story line 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.”
The Ringer article said that the reporter had received a direct message on Twitter about the accounts, with a claim that the whistle-blower had worked in artificial intelligence and had used an open-source data analysis tool to link the suspect accounts.
“They all have a pattern of likes, follows, and tweets which are extraordinarily similar,” the message said. The Ringer’s investigation then revealed much of that to be true, with the accounts all having followed people with personal ties to Colangelo, and the messages being remarkably similar in content and tone.
When the team was contacted about two of the accounts, but not the other three, the three accounts that had gone unmentioned all were quickly switched from public to private, including one that had not been active in several months.
The team has yet to issue a statement beyond Colangelo’s initial denial.