Keith Strudler: The Same Page

Jun 13, 2018

In a marriage, or really any relationship, it’s important to be on the same page. To know what the other person thinks, or what they want to do. For example, when you’re looking to buy a new house, it’s important to know how you define “move in ready,” and to have that definition negotiated before you’re touring homes with a realtor. I may know this from experience.

Former Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and his wife seem to be just a bit out of synchronicity, at least from an outside gaze. Here’s why I say that. A couple of weeks ago, the sports publication The Ringer published a story that linked a series of twitter accounts that criticized Philly basketball players – like Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel – to the then current team president. In other words, The Ringer asserted that Bryan Colangelo, who I remind you was serving as team president, created a series of fake twitter accounts, or burner accounts if you will, that used fake names and nicknames and handles. And through those accounts, the article asserts, Colangelo criticized players – his players. That is, to state the obvious, strange. Apparently, Colangelo didn’t stop with athletes. He also questioned moves made by his coaching staff and GM, revealed confidential info about trades the team would make, and, for the coup de grace, revealed nonpublic medical information about his athletes. That, according to the Ringer, came from secret burner accounts from team president Bryan Colangelo.

So, not surprisingly, the 76ers investigated – which, as you can imagine, isn’t that hard to do in the digital age. And that’s where the story gets weird. As the investigation unfolded, it seemed that several of the twitter accounts traced back to a cell number operated by – wait for it – Barbara Bottini, Bryan Colangelo’s wife. When investigators asked her for her cell phone, she tried to destroy the digital evidence – thank you Tom Brady – which failed miserably. Then she admitted to having done it, and her husband claimed that he had no knowledge of these accounts in particular. All of which led the team to fire Colangelo, which is perhaps the only part of this story that isn’t surprising.

This adds an uncomfortable ending to what was seemingly a remarkable season. The Sixers had finally risen from their perennial spot at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, coming close to completing what is commonly and now even affectionately known as “The Process.” They played in the conference semifinals and became something of a trendy pick to make the championship series. More importantly, they seemed to affirm that this tiresome process of getting worse – much worse – before you can get better, finally appeared to work. They were good, really young, and might even be the place where LeBron James decides to next take his talent, both because they were on such an upswing, but also because of this supposedly vibrant team culture. Which now, seems a little more difficult to fathom.

It’s not likely that this social media snafu will completely derail the team’s ascent, especially given the abysmal condition of the Eastern Conference. And it’s probably not worth reminding people that they should be careful about what they tweet, especially given, you know, Trump. But what is surprising is two things. First, as much as we like to envision sports teams as autonomous units working towards a singular, collective goal, that’s just not always the case. And the problems aren’t simply with the players, as the stereotype may go. In this case, the president of basketball operations – the guy who’s basically in charge of the making the team go – was openly mocking and derailing his team. In sports teams, individuals may have individual ideas and aspirations – and those may override this altruistic notion of team. So don’t assume that just because someone’s involved with sports that they’re not still selfish.

Second, I’m not exactly sure what this case says about marriage or even gender in the landscape of men’s pro sports. Not being a cyber expert, I can’t verify the veracity of whether Bryan or Barbara were truly responsible for this fake news, so to speak. At the very least it’s a collaborative effort, since I can’t really imagine Colangelo’s wife operating as a lone wolf. But I am surprised that Bryan seemed completely comfortable jumping on an implausible story that largely implicates his life partner for destroying his career. Perhaps anyone so self-indulgent to anonymously bash his own team would have no problem doing to the same to his wife. So much for chivalry.

I suppose we’ll never know who was truly responsible in one of most bizarre cases in sports social media history – which says a lot. But at the very least, it’s probably wise if Bryant and his wife, like any marriage, were on the same page.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

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