Sam Hinkie always said that Marlow is the kind of place where if you get stopped by the cops, 30 teenagers will drive past, and half of them will have called your parents by the time you get home.
Ditch class to go to Sonic and you won’t be asked if you want mozzarella sticks with your order, you’ll be told to get back to school.
“I was remarkably lucky to grow up in a place like that,” said Hinkie, the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers. You read that right. The franchise that won NBA titles with Wilt and Dr. J, the franchise that ignited Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson to stardom, has handed its keys to a guy from Stephens County.
NBA general managers can come from all over. But who would expect that list to include a football-crazed small town in the oil patch of southwestern Oklahoma?
Truth is, Marlow didn’t produce an NBA general manager. Marlow produced Hinkie, a boy wonder in most everything he’s attempted since his days of starting a lawn maintenance business as a boy.
“Pretty bright kid early on,” said Kenny Ridley, who grew up in Marlow and returned to coach and teach biology. One of his protégés was Hinkie, a 1996 Marlow graduate. “When he wasn’t carrying a weedeater, he was carrying a basketball down the street. One of the hardest-working kids, one of the greatest kids, I’ve ever coached.”
Tuesday night, when the 76ers played the Thunder, Hinkie hosted a pack of Marlow friends and family. Old teammates, friends from school, neighbors. A chance to say hello and thanks for making Marlow what it was. A place for a kid like Hinkie to excel.
“I said when I was 15 years old, I felt I was lucky to be there,” Hinkie said. “It was a place you could make mistakes in a safe environment, be encouraged to do whatever it was you wanted to do. I don’t know why I would want to grow up anywhere else.”
Hinkie was an average athlete and the student of a lifetime. Hinkie went on to OU, where he graduated summa cum laude and was a campus leader, named one of America’s top 60 undergraduates by USA Today and the outstanding senior in the Business College.
“Obviously, a guy like that’s going to set the curve in pretty much any class you’re in,” said Duane Lovett, one of Hinkie’s best friends growing up. “Excelled in any kind of math class. There’s lots of smart people. But he thinks outside the box. That’s kind of him in a nutshell. Doesn’t do things the way everybody else does.”
Marlow knew what it had on its hands. Ridley, who graduated from Brown University, knew Hinkie needed extra motivation. “I’d make up special tests, try to pull one over on him,” Ridley said. “He’d look up and grin. He’d still ace it. Whatever I threw at him, he was up to the task. Super bright. Had some talents that a lot of folks don’t.”
Hinkie appreciates the efforts of the school system, which worked with him in a variety of ways. Marlow only offered two years of Spanish, but when Hinkie was considering Duke, he figured he would need three years of Spanish. The school district offered to teach him Spanish III solo.
Hinkie’s parents knew their son was headed for big things.
“I knew whatever he did, he would be in charge of it,” said Ron Hinkie, Sam’s father and a long-time employee at Halliburton in Duncan. “Just from his actions and the way he went about things. More than anything, how he handled his time. He allocated a certain amount of time for whatever the task was. Did the background work.”
But Hinkie wasn’t a bookworm. In fact, he was a sports nut. The same keen eyes that would spot a kid pulled over by peace officers would spot Hinkie’s used Ford F-150 truck parked at the Marlow gym. Soon enough, friends would join Hinkie’s shooting practice, and a pickup game would break out.
“That was the kind of thing you could do in a place like that,” Hinkie said. “Basketball was a pretty important part of my life. I’d go to two or three team camps every summer, three or four individual camps every summer, had a key to the gym, go every day. Sometimes twice a day. It was important to me.”
Hinkie played football and basketball for the Outlaws. He’s long said he was just enough of an athlete to get you beat; 5-foot-9, 145 pounds. But Marlow made the state hoops tournament twice with Hinkie at point guard, and Hinkie played a mean defensive back, not breaking on passes so much as knowing where they were going before they were launched.
And years later, when Hinkie had an MBA from Stanford and corporate America was calling, the sports pull was too strong. Hinkie interned with the NFL 49ers and Texans, which led to a job with the NBA’s Houston Rockets, eventually the lieutenant’s job to GM Daryl Morey and finally, last May, the keys to the rebuilding 76ers.
No big surprise to anyone in Marlow.
“He’s one of the unique people,” Ridley said. “He’s not condescending in his intelligence. He can communicate with anybody. He’s got a gift with people.
“Analytics, he can break it down to where I can understand what he’s into. He’s everyman, with a super brain and loves athletics. He wanted to be a great player. Carved himself into a serviceable high school player. He can do anything he wants. Sports meant a lot to him.”
So does Marlow.
“A town full of hard-working, no-nonsense, humble people that have their priorities straight and don’t lose sight of it,” said Hinkie, who still tries to keep an eye on Marlow, since Marlow always kept an eye on him.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.