Sam Hinkie Used a Fake Abe Lincoln Quote in His Resignation Letter

In his 13-page resignation letter, Sam Hinkie quoted Abraham Lincoln to defend his way of building a team. Problem is, Lincoln never said that quote.

Abraham Lincoln, Sam Hinkie

Hinkie photo by Bill Streicher — USA TODAY Sports

Sam Hinkie resigned as Sixers general manager yesterday, and he did it in spectacular fashion: A 13-page resignation letter that apparently left management unaware he had actually resigned.

The manifesto does not just deal with basketball. It includes the passage, “New Zealand’s flightless bird the moa (measuring in at 10 ft, 400 lbs.) had the life tramping around the South Island for a great long run; then the first Māori explorers washed ashore in canoes, and that was that.”

It also quotes many famous people, such as Atul Gawande, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Bill James, Bill Belichick, Tim Urban, Max Planck and more.

He also quotes Abraham Lincoln. Here’s an excerpt:

A league with 30 intense competitors requires a culture of finding new, better ways to solve repeating problems. In the short term, investing in that sort of innovation often doesn’t look like much progress, if any. Abraham Lincoln said “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Here’s the problem: Abraham Lincoln never said that.

Two years ago, the invaluable website Quote Investigator delved into that Abraham Lincoln quote, of which there are several versions. (One only has him using half his time — two of four hours — to sharpen the axe, rather than two-thirds of it.) The site delves into the provenance of famous quotes and decides whether they were actually said by the oft-referenced speaker. Its verdict on Abraham Lincoln’s quote:

There is no substantive evidence that Abraham Lincoln who died in 1865 made a remark of this type. The earliest instance located by [Quote Investigator] matching this general template appeared in 1956 in a volume about agricultural education. However, the words were ascribed to an anonymous woodsman and not to Lincoln. In addition, the cutting task was measured in minutes and not hours. […] The first ascription to Lincoln found by [Quote Investigator] was printed in 1960.

Abraham Lincoln never said what Sam Hinkie thinks he did.

This may seem trivial. But I think it really undercuts the argumentation style in Hinkie’s letter. He quotes the famous people to show that he is not alone in his plan. The “famous quotes” style of arguing is an appeal to authority; if Elon Musk or Warren Buffett or Bill Gates say this thing, then it must be true. If Abraham Lincoln says you should sharpen your axe for two-thirds of the time it takes you to do something, then that’s how you should do it. In essence, he is saying Abraham Lincoln would’ve assembled a basketball team the way Sam Hinkie did.

But the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln is just an old logging aphorism. Hinkie certainly thought it was real, as it shows up on many quote sites attributed to Lincoln. But all the first citations are from 20th-century woodsmen and loggers.

And while the unnamed woodsman who actually did say this quote may be right — though he apparently had a better idea of how long it takes to chop down a tree — he does not have the authority of Abraham Lincoln. This does not mean Hinkie was wrong about how to build a basketball team. Maybe all those picks will convey and the Sixers will be great soon! But if he based part of his basketball strategy on fake Abe Lincoln quotes, I don’t know how confident I am.

It reminds me of that famous George Washington quote: “Thinking Kendall Marshall and Nik Stauskas are good building blocks for your basketball team’s future is a good way to lose your job.”

Follow @dhm on Twitter.

Hinkie Letter by Deadspin