The basketball world’s first public look at controversial former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie was full of coffee, very fast audiobooks, and a fascination with Kobe Bryant.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard wrote a lengthy feature about Hinkie, who stepped down as Sixers general manager this spring. The feature is filled with fairly strange anecdotes about his daily living and some occasional insights into how Hinkie operated as GM of the Trust the Process Sixers.
Hinkie the person seems incredibly interesting and certainly unique. Ballard brings up character traits that often juxtapose to characterize his complicated personality. He is “hyperrational” but “a man of deep faith.” He’s described as “unemotional” but “sentimental.” Members of the Sixers front office describe the difficulty of working with a GM who approached his job the same regardless of a big win or a 10-game losing streak.
Here’s more from Ballard’s profile:
With the Sixers, Hinkie was renowned for his dispassion. “Bleak events would happen and that day looked exactly like the days when Robert Covington has 40 and we look smart for signing him,” recalls one colleague. “There was no variation at all to Sam’s approach and it probably freaked people out, I know it did.” Then again, Hinkie was also known for his empathy. One example: He drove Evan Turner to the airport after trading him. “You couldn’t find a group of nicer, more approachable humans,” a co-worker says of Sam and his family. “Then you see him act like Jerry Maguire on draft night and you’re like, holy s–t, this guy is a unique cat.”
The feature also described how committed he was to his employees, even after he left the team. Younger members of the front office describe him as a “mentor,” and Ballard mentioned how he attended the funerals for two team employees on the same day held in two different parts of the country.
The piece also has glimpses of biographical information. He was his class valedictorian, class president all four years, and voted Most Likely to Succeed. Hinkie also played safety on his high school football team and was a “scrappy” 5-foot-9, 145-pound point guard. I think this paragraph says more about Hinkie’s personality than anything else I’ve seen.
It comes as little surprise, then, that as a talent evaluator Hinkie had a soft spot for players with similar mental makeup to his own. Grinders. Guys who give a crap. During his years as assistant GM in Houston, Hinkie’s favorite player was Chuck Hayes, an effort-and-position guy. He similarly loved Kyle Lowry. And he remains fascinated by Kobe Bryant. At one point during our time together he met with a group of eight law students in a conference room at Stanford. “The single metric I wish we had,” he told them, “is the sum total of the scores of every game you’ve ever played. One-on-one, two-on-two, your little sister, your kids, five-on-five, scrimmages, preseason, playoff games.” He paused. “I don’t know what that would say, but I suspect it would be awesome. I suspect it would say that Kobe Bryant is Genghis Khan.”
It’s difficult to itemize all of the fascinating tidbits embedded in Ballard’s feature, but here is an abbreviate list of some of the highlights.
- Hinkie has been on Twitter for a decade but only recently started using his real name.
- He appears to use the word “superkeen” often.
- He listens to audiobooks at 3x speed, which is actually insane.
- He doesn’t check his phone often and his wife has to call him twice if she actually needs him.
- Hinkie and his family love Disneyworld.
- He convinced a Disneyland lodge to sell him a pay phone he called his future wife on a lot when they were dating.
- He also has a slat from a bench in Paris where he proposed.
Much of the piece seems to argue that Hinkie’s style of thinking is much better suited to Silicon Valley than an NBA front office. Hinkie’s day-to-day life in Palo Alto is filled with self-reflection, endless meetings, and gaining new insight into things like human modification and new ways of thinking. He often sounds like a perfect forward-thinking tech mogul, brushing off failure and ready to start over again.
Besides the obvious reasons—weather, culture, networking, anonymity—Hinkie came here to be among what he calls “my people,” the quants, dreamers, AI geeks and visionaries. As opposed to the sports world, which can range from socialist to dictatorial but is often slow to embrace change, in Silicon Valley disruption is expected. Here no one tries to replicate the status quo or embrace average. Here companies operate for years without showing a profit, for better or worse. “When I meet someone out here, I’ll say, ‘I’m kind of between gigs,’ ” Hinkie says. “Or, if I’m being cute, sometimes I’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m like a founder that got pushed out for professional management,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, first time? That happened to me in ’85 and ’93 and ’02.’ ” He pauses. “There’s not the sense of shame for failure here that there is some other places.”
Hinkie’s noncompete clause expires at the end of this season, meaning his “gap year” will end and he’ll be free to work for another team. One friend—Ben Jun, who works at a tech incubator HFV Labs—said many in the tech industry hope he goes into business outside of basketball.
“Sam is infinitely employable,” says Jun. “I know six people who are hoping he doesn’t go back to the NBA because they’d like to hire him. He’s very good at understanding regulated industries. We look at sports as something other than a regulated industry, but that’s really what it is.”
I’m sure a lot of basketball fans hope he stays out of their team’s front office as well.