Sam Hinkie and I stepped out into the rain. Fortunately, the VIP parking garage laid just across South Street from the entrance to the Orlando Magic's practice facility, tucked within the Amway Center. We shuffled into the concrete garage's elevator, rose to Level 3 and I followed his calm stride to the black Chevy Suburban he rented for the week of the 2014 Orlando Pro Summer League.
Sam Hinkie drove me to dinner. Country music softly played on the car's XM radio. He smiled wide and nodded when I told him Dario Saric reminded me of my favorite NBA player, Boris Diaw. We ditched the truck at the Grand Bohemian's valet and proceeded to wade through the crowded hotel lobby, sitting down on the cushioned seating in the hotel's Bösendorfer Lounge that was open late night. Hinkie ordered an iced tea. My father always told me to order salads at business lunches, but Hinkie said he loved the place's thin-crust, oven-baked pizza.
Sam Hinkie and I talked for over an hour. He hijacked the beginning of our conversation. I was 20 years old, fresh off my sophomore year in college, on the road covering the NBA. He peppered me with questions about my writing and reporting and my childhood in the Philly area. When it was finally my time to ask him about the mystified Process, I had eaten my entire personal pizza before he took five bites. Our conversation was off the record, but no tape recorder could have truly captured the conviction that dripped off his every word. A fire burned in his eyes. His hunger for transcendence far surpassed his interest in his 12-inch prosciutto pie.
Sam Hinkie devised a plan to achieve generational greatness. He spoke with an impressive credence that night, where it was obvious he knew he was most likely the most intelligent person in the room — in any room he has ever, or will ever, set foot in — without sounding remotely arrogant. And not just with basketball. Hinkie is probably the most intelligent human being I've ever conversed with, and my high school AP Calculus BC teacher literally creates problems for both the AP Test and SAT. But there was a larger takeaway about how he spoke.
Sam Hinkie frequently begins his statements with "I think." I noticed it during his introductory press conference in May 2013. I noticed it during that dinner. I noticed it once again in the exceptional Lowe Post podcast on Tuesday — exceptional on the part of Zach's excellent line of questioning. When asked about the direction of the Sixers, Hinkie almost always answered, "I think we..." almost subconsciously attaching his opinion to every decision, every eventual outcome of the 76ers' fate. The way he spoke, the 76ers' practice facility was a group brainstorm, but he planted the seed that ultimately came to fruition. His scouts spent hours scouring the globe to assess elite basketball talent, but it was solely his decision who to draft. Finding diamonds in the rough like Jerami Grant and Richaun Holmes was a collective effort, but he truly saw their potential. He had an intrinsic skill to work the waiver wire and manipulate 10-day contracts to their fullest. He believed in the power of sports science. Carrying that tone was certainly his prerogative. That's how ownership, at the time, allowed him to conduct his process since the day he was hired.
Sam Hinkie didn't often talk to the media on record. He found it unnecessary, even potentially damaging to the future of his franchise. Why offer 29 rival teams a glimpse into his opinions and knowledge? He wrote in his resignation letter that speaking with the media on night of the 2013 NBA Draft lost him, and the Sixers, a chance at originally acquiring Robert Covington. He hardly ever spoke to the media again. He didn't want to, so damn it, he wasn't going to. He kept his most cherished opinions locked in a safe hidden deeper than anyone could dig. Many at Liberty Ballers have talked with subordinate members of the Sixers front office. Hinkie hardly told his closest advisors the upper tier of his personal big board until Draft night. It's all why Wednesday night's event makes sense.
Sam Hinkie stepped down as general manager of the 76ers. He was not fired. He foresaw his impending marginalization and it was confirmed when it took ownership but an hour to decide Bryan Colangelo as general manager in Hinkie's wake. "Given all the changes to our organization, I no longer have the confidence that I can make good decisions on behalf of investors in the Sixers -- you," Hinkie wrote in a 13-page resignation letter ESPN obtained. "So I should step down. And I have." Jerry Colangelo's presence in the organization alone, forget whichever potential, additional executives awaited the front office this offseason, suffocated Hinkie's freedom to rebuild the Sixers in his image. That's the polar opposite regime from what he signed up for in May 2013, and it's not a structure in which he was interested in participating. Hinkie wanted to hold the lone thumb over the big, blinking red button. That's why this make sense. The timing is shocking and the finality is crude. It still makes perfect sense.