PINNED AGAINST a wall by a platoon of reporters like a captured butterfly, Bryan Colangelo stumbled through his admission. His eyes darted from face to face looking for an ally. He found none.
This was the evening of Feb. 11, and it was, to a degree, the defining moment in Colangelo's first season as Sixers president. Hours before, a report surfaced that revealed that the Sixers had hidden the extent of the injury to rookie center Joel Embiid; that he had a torn meniscus in his left knee as well as a bone bruise.
With desperation and exasperation in his voice, Colangelo tried to sell the Sixers' reasoning. They believed the tear predated the bruise and was not causing the symptoms that had cost Embiid 11 of the previous 12 games. Nobody bought it.
This was the moment that Colangelo realized that he wasn't in Canada anymore, and that the only thing Philly and Phoenix had in common is Curt Schilling. Colangelo's doublespeak might have worked in a hockey town and a golf resort, but it doesn't fly in Philly. He arrived with bona fides and a blank slate; a year later, he's the least-trusted general manager in town.
Colangelo believed his Ivy League vocabulary, his tailor-made wardrobe and his striking Mediterranean features would distract the proletariat. That slick veneer might have helped him on Wall Street, but it doesn't mean squat on South Broad. After three years of intellectual detachment from Sam Hinkie and absentee ownership from billionaire raider Josh Harris, fans wanted a man of the people, not a corporate robot.
Colangelo needed to be transparent, sympathetic and diplomatic. He was opaque, indifferent and dismissive. Maybe he will learn. Maybe he won't.
After the season ended last week, Colangelo acknowledged he needed to be more transparent . . . and then he refused to say whether the team plans on having Ben Simmons play summer league basketball. This is relevant not only because Simmons just missed his rookie season with a broken foot but also because the Sixers hope to convert Simmons, a 6-10 power forward, into a point guard, and summer league games would speed that transition.
Even as Colangelo promised transparency, he practiced secrecy. This is the behavior of a man swathed in entitlement.
Colangelo rose to power on the coattails of his father, Jerry Colangelo, who brought baseball, basketball and Barkley to the desert. Jerry landed in Philadelphia in December 2015 to depose Hinkie and to designate a successor. He hired his unemployed son.
Bryan Colangelo found himself facing a handful of disadvantages:
The roster had been thrown together with no strategy besides compiling the highest aggregate pedigree. Colangelo ably added veterans.
Colangelo was not Hinkie: self-made, brilliant, innovative and anti-establishment, and so Colangelo became the antichrist for the Cult of Hinkie, a very small, very loud, very powerful band of fanatics.
Colangelo not only carried the specter of nepotism but also the burden of failure, since he never won big in Phoenix or Toronto.
Colangelo found himself running a team in a town where substance always trumps style; in fact, style might be your worst enemy.
People were fed up with Hinkie's smarter-than-you act. He was smarter than you, but, in his three years, Hinkie created a culture of mistrust. He refused to be transparent about injury and behavior issues with Nerlens Noel, Embiid and Jahlil Okafor - all considered franchise players at one point. Colangelo somehow made this worse.
After Simmons broke his foot on the final day of training camp last September, the team's infrequent, imprecise updates concerning the healing process and Simmons' workload led fans to believe Simmons might return this season. He never did.
When Noel had a second surgery on his knee at the start of the season, the team made it clear Noel was electing to have the procedure, leaving Noel in the cold. Okafor's knee, which required surgery more than a year ago and cost him the last 23 games of his rookie season, remains mysteriously unsound. Is it tendinitis? Is it bruised? Well, apparently, it just hurts, sometimes really badly. That's the official Sports Science diagnosis.
Most recently, around lunchtime on April 4, the team announced that rookie Dario Saric would play the rest of the season with a minutes restriction because of accumulated fatigue. By dinnertime, coach Brett Brown revealed that Saric had plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
Colangelo seems frustrated that people who buy tickets to his basketball games want to know which players will actually be playing in those games. His frustrations boiled over as the Embiid mess unfolded.
In a radio interview on Feb. 10, Colangelo actually claimed he was legally forbidden to issue injury updates by HIPAA privacy laws. This was, simply, untrue. Per the collective bargaining agreement, NBA teams can choose to disclose medical information "provided that such information relates solely to the reasons why any such player has not been or is not rendering services as a player." A torn meniscus is, by any definition, such a reason.
Colangelo then offered this condescension: "I think you just need to be content with us doing everything possible to put him in the best position to return to the basketball court." News about the torn meniscus broke 24 hours later.
A few days later, Colangelo snapped when a TV interviewer suggested Embiid should have surgery immediately: "So you play a doctor on TV. I think I could do the same." Dr. Michael Barkann was right. Embiid had surgery March 24.
It was all petty and unnecessary.
As it turns out, the tear was minor, just as Colangelo and the Sixers contended. Okafor, who missed the last 11 games this season, said he's getting better. Saric expects to play for Croatia in the FIBA EuroBasket Tournament at the end of the summer. Simmons? He's dunking.
This is all spectacular news for the Sixers.
It's just that nobody trusts the messenger.