I read the Sam Hinkie resignation letter yesterday. It was my first time ever reading it, over four years since the day he resigned from his position as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers. Going back and forth between the resignation letter and Hinkie’s appearance on ESPN Daily with Pablo Torre, I underwent an internal transformation. As dramatic as that sounds, it’s true. The thought entered my mind, like a lightbulb popping on, that ‘The Process’ is not an era of Sixers. It represents something far different and far more profound. The Process is more than a nickname used to identify a star player. It is a mindset, and there are five stages to developing the right process.
The Process, Part I: Just Say ‘I Don’t Know’
Early in Hinkie’s letter, he talks about the value in just saying “I don’t know” if you don’t have the answer. The goal is not to know everything. Rather, the mission, on a day-to-day basis, is to strive to be less wrong than you were the previous day. The mindset should be to think one day at a time, with the long view sitting firmly beyond the finish line.
Part II: Trial And Error
Hinkie mentions the acquisitions of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Michael Carter-Williams, among other draftees. While none of them ever quite panned out with the Sixers (they haven’t quite reached their potentials in the NBA, in general), each missed pick offered a learning experience that helped the franchise make their next decisions. It wasn’t about the errors, it was about learning from the trials so that the same errors weren’t made again.
Part III: Regret Minimization
During his interview with Pablo Torre, Hinkie reflects on his pursuit of Joel Embiid in the 2014 NBA draft. Of significance was Hinkie’s philosophy behind the selection. He strongly believes in the concept of regret minimization, and he feared that he would regret not picking Embiid with the third overall pick if he passed on him. Of particular intrigue was the double-edged nature of Hinkie’s fear–was it worse to make the wrong decision because it was vetoed, or because you stopped short of selling the decision? Hinkie did not let fear of being wrong dictate his decision-making, rather he did that which he believed he would regret most if he passed on that choice.
Part IV: Be Bold
The exact same character trait that led to the NBA forcing the Colangelo family on the Sixers was also what made Hinkie so unique and brilliant. His boldest moment was, perhaps, trading reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams during his sophomore season. He sold on a player whose ceiling he felt was not much higher than his present value. Hinkie dared make the Sixers worse to make them better in the future. He dared to bring in names never heard of again in NBA circles.
Hinkie’s goal wasn’t to impress the masses, but to do what he felt was best for those who he cared for the most. While the NBA was often embarrassed by the Sixers, Hinkie didn’t care. “If you want few people’s opinions to mean a lot,” Hinkie said on ESPN Daily, “the rest have to mean little”. Hinkie didn’t care about what the public thought of him, he was far too preoccupied with making the long-term vision come true for the team he oversaw. By nature, Hinkie isn’t a mainstreamer. He is bold because he believes that swinging for the fences can maximize the chances of success.
Part V: Investing In Others
Sam Hinkie developed a revolving door of players that he added to the roster during his tenure. While the fans, media, and rest of the league saw it as a punchline and an embarrassment, Hinkie saw it as an opportunity to invest in others. He thought of each contract as an opportunity for a young player to show the rest of the NBA what it had missed. He didn’t approach the randomized roster as a gang of misfits filling roster spots to get through an 82-game season. Rather, they were players that had been overlooked by the rest of the NBA.
On ESPN Daily, Hinkie talked of his approach as an investor. He assesses each and every opportunity through the lens of the individuals involved. He looks for conviction, a hunger for knowledge, and a desire to get better every day. Hinkie, in many ways, is an exemplary servant leader. It’s not about what your employees can do for you, it’s about what you can do to maximize their success.
Sam Hinkie, as quiet and conservative of a personality as he has presented himself, works in mysterious ways. His obscure ways portray a man with the longest view in the largest room. While simplistic to some, his methods were indicative of a man who was too brilliant for the association that employed him. Not only are the five phases of Hinkie’s process an outline for building a championship-level basketball team on the basis of maximized capital, but each phase is a philosophy to embody in everyday life.