ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS, MASAI UJIRI GOES HOME TO SCOUT A NEW GENERATION
Masai Ujiri, general manager of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, developed the idea for an African kids’ basketball camp with a childhood friend from Nigeria after their modest pro careers had wound down.
Masai Ujiri didn’t co-create the Giants of Africa basketball camps to develop professional players. Its aim is to prove to young African kids looking for a path that there is something better out there. But if you can find an elite talent along the way…
when he was 12 years old, Simon Majur Mabior left his village in South Sudan, fleeing civil war and famine. His parents stayed behind to guard a small herd of cattle. Simon travelled alone. He hitchhiked for four days to reach the Kakuma refugee camp just over the border into Kenya.
Kakuma is one of the hardest places on Earth. More than 150,000 people exist there on international charity in a “temporary” settlement that’s stood for nearly 25 years. They live in tents or tin-roofed shacks. In summer, temperatures can crest 50 C. Simon has survived there for four years by himself.
“There is only a small house. The sun is shining so much. The water is only a little bit. You can only take for cooking. You cannot bathe,” Simon says.
I spot Simon in the gymnasium of Nairobi’s Brookside Academy, a posh boarding school. The average Kenyan wage is roughly $200 a month. It costs as much as $35,000 a year to attend Brookside. Simon is not a student here.
He is standing amidst 50-or-so awed teenagers in one of Toronto Raptors’ GM Masai Ujiri ‘s Giants of Africa basketball camps. A great many of these young men are unusually large, but Simon is the tall poppy poking out of any huddle. He is a member of the Nuer people, his forehead ritually scarred and several of his bottom teeth pulled. Most impressive – he is 7-foot-1 in stockinged feet.
He was first noticed playing pickup at the refugee camp. One teenage player told another, and another, and so on. Word eventually reached Abel Nson, a local wrangler for Ujiri’s camps: “There is a giant at Kakuma.”
Simon was invited to attend through proxies. He had no way to get here. So Nson arranged to send him the money for a bus ticket. It’s a 13-hour journey to the capital. For a couple of nights, Simon will savour the cool, colonial sprawl of Brookside’s dormitory.
Many of these players – aged 15-18 – have enjoyed the benefit of decent coaching in elite schools or on local teams. Simon has had none. He only started playing two years ago because someone suggested to him it was a way out of Kakuma. At the time, he wasn’t aware there was such a thing as the NBA.
Has he ever seen an NBA game?
“Yes!” Simon says proudly. “Once. I have seen a game once.”
He moves smoothly for a big man. He has decent instincts when he’s allowed to plant himself under the basket. But he is spindly and lacks the athletic basics every North American grade-school kid takes for granted.
“He doesn’t know how to jump. He just sort of throws his body in the direction he wants to go,” says Patrick Engelbrecht, who leads this camp. Engelbrecht is a native South African and the Raptors’ director of global scouting. “Jumping is a skill. Nobody’s taught him how to do it. Nobody’s taught him how to do anything.”
At the end of the first day, Simon draws a crowd under one of the baskets. His trick? Standing on tiptoes, he can reach up and grab the rim. It’s exactly 10 feet off the ground. There are maybe a couple of dozen players in the NBA who manage this. Even while you’re watching him do it, it doesn’t look possible.
Simon does it again. And again. And again. More kids drift over to gawk. A few have taken out their phones and are taking pictures. Even Ujiri has noticed.
Simon Majur Mabior, age 16, can touch the rim without leaving the ground, a skill that draws a crowd at the Giants of Africa basketball camp in Nairobi.
Those are the only two things I have now: education and basket
The point of the Giants of Africa camps is not to develop professional basketball players. It is to prove to kids who are very like Ujiri was 30 years ago – a young African looking for a path – that there is something better out there. But if you can find an elite talent along the way…
Ujiri pulls Simon aside and asks him his age.
“Sixteen,” Simon says.
That’s a good sign. A lot of the kids here will lie when asked this question. They’re no fools. The younger they say they are, the more desirable they seem as prospects. The practice is so endemic, players at African under-16 and under-18 tournaments often have their wrists X-rayed, to see if their bone development matches their claimed ages.
Ujiri has a rule. If the rejoinder to “How are old are you?” is “Who? Me?” you know the next answer isn’t true.
Ujiri leans back against a wall and asks some basic biographical questions. Simon looms over him, in the unusually physically proximate way South Sudanese seem to have. When I speak to Simon alone later, he will spend much of the conversation with his enormous hand wrapped gently around my shoulder.
Simon’s not exactly sure who Ujiri is. He just knows he’s famous and he’s in charge.
Ujiri wanders back, arms folded and thoughtful. “His life has just changed, for sure,” he says. “If he’s not good enough, school-wise, we can help him go somewhere pro.”
Simon has little feel for the nuances of the game he calls “basket.” But he knows a lifeline when someone dangles it in front of him.
“The situation I have now is bad, but I want to save my life,” he says. “The one thing is school, and then follow the basket. Those are the only two things I have now: education and basket.”
The idea for The Giants of Africa was born in a bachelor apartment on the suburban periphery of Washington.
Ujiri washed up there after an itinerant career as a basketball pro in Europe. His last stop was Denmark. He joined a team in Copenhagen – he can no longer recall the name – that immediately went bankrupt. Ujiri played a few games for free and then retired.
Since he had nowhere better to go, he ended up bunking in with a childhood friend, Godwin Owinje. Owinje got the bed. Ujiri laid a mattress on the floor alongside.
They were young men cooking up schemes. Both had come out of Nigeria to make a subsistence living in basketball. Now they were in their late 20s, and that was over.
Owinje was pointed toward a career in real estate. Ujiri was determined to stay in sport. The idea of doing basketball camps in places where such things didn’t exist appealed to both their competitive and altruistic sides. Most importantly, it seemed like fun. At the time, it didn’t make much sense. Ujiri was talking about launching a charitable foundation while still unemployed. But he’s never been a man to take the reasonable route.
This was just before Ujiri began his unlikely ascent into the NBA executive ranks. He and Owinje decided to drive down to Atlanta to watch NCAA Final Four games. Once there, Ujiri met up with David Thorpe, a renowned developmental coach and occasional sportswriter.
Among his many talents, Ujiri’s signal skill may be the cultivation of influential people. Thorpe introduced him to some basketball insiders, who introduced him to more of the same and so on. Within a couple of years, Ujiri was an unpaid scout in the Orlando Magic organization.
That led to his first full-time job, with the Denver Nuggets. He switched from Denver to Toronto and back. In 2013, he was NBA executive of the year as the Nuggets general manager. The next year, he was lured back to run the Raptors organization. By now, there are very few important players in the college and pro games that he does not call a friend.
He leveraged those relationships to get Giants of Africa started. The first camp took place in Ujiri’s hometown of Zaria, Nigeria, in 2003. The 50 invitees lacked the most basic equipment. Ujiri put a box in the middle of the Nuggets dressing room. Players dropped whatever they had lying around inside.
Not all of them understood exactly who they were giving this stuff to or why. Some gave street clothes with the tags still attached. In one instance, a player donated a full-length fur coat.
Ujiri would pack up the gear and head over in the off-season. He did the negotiating with local federations, high-school coaches and whoever else wanted to give him a hand. He held the camps on decrepit outdoor courts and in borrowed gyms. He coached whomever they put in front of him. The money to pay for it all is gathered piecemeal. One of the ways Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Tim Leiweke lured Ujiri back to Toronto was by opening negotiations with a promise to donate $200,000 (U.S.) a year to Giants of Africa.
From the start, the operation was a logistical headache; although it has graduated to a formal enterprise sponsored by the likes of Nike, it still can be.
While we were in Nairobi, police stopped the wife of one of the organizers when they spotted a half-dozen boxes of new shoes in the backseat of her car. Several hours later, both she and the shoes were released after a small “administrative fee” was procured – 25,000 Kenyan shillings ($325).
They’ve already done camps in Nigeria and Ghana. It’s a frenzy of appearances, interviews and overnight flights. There are about a dozen people in the group, including a documentary film crew.
The core is Ujiri, Owinje and two other childhood pals, T.J. Tijjani and Mike Akuboh. As teens, they were inseparable, living at each other’s houses, playing with and against each other, bound together by a shared obsession. Three of them – Ujiri, Owinje and Tijjani – would play professionally in Europe and on the Nigerian national team.
They had three unusual advantages – the physicality (Ujiri is the little one at a lithe 6-foot-4), middle-class backgrounds and the good fortune to come under the protection of a transplanted American coach who built basketball’s framework in Nigeria, Oliver Johnson. The Giants of Africa is, in large part, an effort to continue Johnson’s work.
Around the time they were 13 years old, a neighbour obtained a magical object: a Betamax video cassette player. Ujiri and Akuboh managed to get hold of a tape – North Carolina State versus Houston in the 1983 NCAA championship game. It featured the greatest African player of all time, Hakeem Olajuwon.
Ujiri and Akuboh were soccer players first, but the game captivated them. They would spend weekend mornings at the neighbour’s house, watching it over and over again. In the afternoon, they’d head to a nearby court and try to duplicate what they’d seen. They didn’t own a basketball. Instead, they played with a soccer ball. That’s where it started.
They’ve all scattered since – Owinje is still working in real estate in Washington, Tijjani is a lawyer in Arizona, Akuboh remained in Nigeria and is a college coach. But they maintain a formidably tight bond, communicating constantly by text and phone.
“Sometimes, when you find a little success, friends get funny,” Ujiri says. “Not these guys. It’s always been the same.”
During this rare all-together time, they’ll spend most of it teasing each other relentlessly. They are still teenagers. They just happen to be in their mid-40s.
Someone starts up a story one night about the worst player they’ve ever known.
“Godwin’s right here, man,” Tijjani says. “Don’t do that. He can hear you.”
Owinje, nose planted in his phone, smirks.
Later, Tijjani will suggest that on their next stop, Rwanda, the four of them offer to play the national team.
“We’ll kill them,” Tijjani says.
“If the game lasts three minutes,” Owinje says.
Ujiri’s role in all this is first-among-equals and amused observer. He doesn’t take part in much of the banter. He absorbs it gleefully from a slight distance.
As the public face of basketball in Canada, Ujiri has seemed a preternaturally suave figure, someone always in charge of a moment. But here, among these men, is the first time it’s occurred to me that he is relaxed.
‘African men don’t cry’
the first order of business in Nairobi is the opening of a new outdoor court paid for by Ujiri’s foundation. It cost $25,000 to build it on the grounds of a community centre spread around a Catholic church. It’s in the midst of Nairobi’s most notorious slum, Kayole. The place has a throbbing vibrancy. The traffic is crushing. Someone asks the bus driver what would happen if we got out and walked.
“They would notice you straight off,” he says. “And you wouldn’t last five minutes.”
Well, we’ll stay on the bus then.
There are perhaps 300 people waiting to see Ujiri. They’ve been sitting on temporary bleachers in a baking sun for an hour. Dozens more are piled up outside the fence. These people don’t see many (or any) ribbon cuttings. A young girl presents Ujiri with a pair of plastic scissors on a chipped dinner plate.
The parish priest does the blessings: “We believe God is in a place that is cleanest. This place is clean.”
They kick off a series of demonstration games. All of these kids, locals, learned what they know on a single half-collapsed backboard, which is now shoved off into a corner. For most, this is their first time on a real court. The games play more like rugby than basketball.
Someone drags five very young boys off the street for a photo-op with Ujiri. They’ve been rolling bicycle tires – at least one looks like it’s been taken from a motorcycle – down the rutted road. The kids are nonplussed. They’re handed a basketball. They toss it away. It’s shoved back into their hands. Someone else wedges them into red Giants of Africa T-shirts. They take a couple of grim shots. Then they flee back onto the street like a wolfpack.
“All they care about is those tires,” Ujiri sighs. As in much of the rest of the continent, basketball has a ways to go in Kayole.
Before he heads back to the bus, Ujiri turns to the trailing crowd and raises his arms: “African men don’t cry. So I won’t.” They cheer him out the gate.
The camp starts the next day at Brookside, with a very different feel. These players have real talent. Ujiri enters sergeant-major mode. He begins with an instruction about how players must sit (knees drawn up), how they must dress (shirt tucked in, shorts pulled to the waist), how they must respond (look people in the eyes) and how they must play: “There’s no street ball here.”
The first morning is given over to a series of conditioning and skill-building drills. Ujiri doesn’t do any actual coaching. The others do that job. He watches. He’s not really scouting, but he can’t help it. It’s what he does.
At the end of the Nairobi camp, Ujiri sidles up to ask who I think was the best player. I name a kid. The wrong kid, as it turns out.
“You just got fired as my scout,” Ujiri says.
Ujiri estimates Giants of Africa has graduated 150 players to various higher levels – American prep schools, the NCAA and European pro ranks. Some were helped along with calls made to friendly coaches, scouts or connectors. Some would have gotten there on their own.
“With my job, I honestly can’t keep up with how many have gone to the U.S.,” Ujiri says. “I’ve stopped trying.”
A couple of years ago, he went to Syracuse University to scout Toronto-born point guard Tyler Ennis. When he walked into the locker room, he spotted two Nigerian camp graduates. “I had no frickin’ idea they were there,” he says.
When Giants of Africa first started catching notice, other NBA teams suspected it was a thinly veiled recruitment exercise. Of course, it’s not possible to stash budding superstars away in Africa. If you want them to become NBA-ready, they have to go to the U.S. to develop. Once there, everyone knows who they are. Also, you can’t just sign players. All have to enter the draft.
“But [other teams] worry. Trust me,” Ujiri says. “It’s the reason I’ve gone so slow.”
To combat any impression of impropriety, Ujiri alerts the NBA head office to the dates of all his camps. Other teams are invited to send scouts. A few did, and then stopped. It’s easier to let Ujiri do the hard work of discovery.
There is an unavoidable ambivalence to all this. It’s hard not to get excited when you do spot someone remarkable. In Kenya, it’s another 16-year-old South Sudanese, Kon Bior. At 6-foot-6, Bior has the broad build and easy grace that mark the special ones. He is one of those players who seem spotlit on the floor.
“He has the eyes of a killer,” Ujiri says. “That kid can be in the NBA.”
Bior doesn’t need Ujiri’s help. He’s enrolled in one of Kenya’s best high schools, and already a bit of a local legend. Others have taken notice. Remember the name. He’s on his way somewhere. Ujiri has to wait like everyone else to see exactly where.
But watching Bior run the floor, Ujiri still can’t help muttering to himself: “He would look so good in a Raptors jersey.”
That’s just one among more than four dozen participants. When addressing the players, Ujiri stresses life lessons and character building – stay in school, treat women well, find a passion. The idea is use basketball as a means rather than an end. Isn’t that how it worked out for Ujiri?
He’ll pull Tijjani to the front and say, “This man is a lawyer. You can be a lawyer, too.”
He’ll point at himself – successful manager – and say, “If my dumb ass can do it, you can do it, too.”
The kids nod along, but you know they’re thinking what every semi-talented teenager everywhere is thinking – “I’m different. I’m the one who’s going to get to the NBA.”
‘It was a miracle’
the young man who personifies this belief is a shrimpy 19-year-old, Ryan Otsimi.
On the first day of camp, Otsimi was standing outside the Brookside gate. One problem – he hadn’t been invited.
Otsimi lives in rural Kenya, eight hours from the capital. He was raised by “aunties and uncles” – neighbours – after the death of his mother. He tells a convoluted story about how he was asked to be here. It’s hard to follow. Straight-faced, he also tells me he’s six feet tall. He’s maybe 5-foot-9, probably 5-8. What’s most likely is that Otsimi heard about the camp and took his chance.
“I stood out there for three hours because my name wasn’t on the list,” Otsimi said. “It really hurt. I was crying, and everybody was laughing. The watchman came and chested me away, but I couldn’t go.”
Otsimi is not being metaphoric. He was apparently standing at the gate, flooded in tears. Other kids just show up, hoping to talk their way in. But this was next-level stuff.
“What are you going to do?” says Nson, the wrangler, flapping his arms. “We can’t just let him stand out there and cry.”
Ryan Otsimi, overage and undersized, stood outside the gates of the camp crying until he was allowed in. Once in the gym, his electric presence and raw athleticism helped him stand out.
Adrian Armstrong for The Globe and Mail
My role model is Derrick Rose. He’s honest. He’s kind. I try to speak like him. I try to be humble like him. He is part of me
A few players hadn’t shown up that first night. So although he was too old and nobody was sure if he could even play, Otsimi was allowed in. He was given his free equipment – shoes, shirt and shorts – and a bed.
The next morning, the invited stragglers appeared. They took Otsimi’s equipment away. This time he didn’t cry or protest. He stood there, defeated. That impressed everyone even more. Godwin Owinje was wandering by at that moment. He made a snap decision – let him stay.
“It was a miracle,” says Otsimi. “One of the coaches said, ‘You have a God.’”
Again – not metaphoric. By the way he says it, he means a torn-from-the-Bible miracle.
Once in the gym, Otsimi is the most electric presence in the group. Others jog to their stations. He sprints. Whenever someone is having trouble understanding an instruction, he dashes over and whispers furiously in their ear. He has the natural authority of an older boy, leavened with a gentle, irrepressible enthusiasm.
He lacks fine skills, but he’s stupefyingly athletic. He runs the floor like a fullback, completely heedless. He’s either going out of here on everyone’s shoulders or on a stretcher.
“I want to be an NBA player. My role model is [Chicago Bulls’ point guard] Derrick Rose. He’s honest. He’s kind. I try to speak like him. I try to be humble like him. He is part of me.”
This conversation happened a couple of weeks before Rose was named in a civil suit alleging a sex assault. One hopes Otsimi hasn’t gotten the news.
Regardless of whatever faults his heroes may or may not have, how is so much desire possible? And knowing how unlikely his dream is to come true, how is it bearable?
By the coaches’ estimation, Otsimi may be good enough for junior college in the U.S. And that’s debatable. They’ll do what they can for him.
For now, Africa is a proving ground for big men – the sort teams can afford to bring along slowly. Smaller men – guards – need to be very close to fully formed by their late teens. Owing to a paucity of resources and training, Africa has never produced a top player like that. America (and, increasingly, Europe) is already full of them.
Not that Otsimi would hear you if you tried to explain this to him. He’s come this far. Who are you to tell him what he’s capable of? He has both the will and the savvy. Most have one, but not the other.
After the final day in Nairobi has finished, the awards are given out. Both Otsimi and Simon Majur Mabior make the “Best 10” of the camp. The coaches collapse in on Simon. They want to film a brief sizzle reel accentuating his length.
He performs a drill grabbing balls from the ground, pivoting and dunking. He does it 10 times in a row, without really jumping. By the end, he’s reeling from exhaustion. Another thing he lacks is fitness.
As a sideline, Owinje runs a subscription-based website alerting U.S. coaches to hidden African gems. Going out of his way to feed a few young men into the pipeline bolsters his own credentials and helps the kids. Some charge for this service, but Owinje does it for free.
He’s convinced he can place Simon somewhere, but he will need some basic information. He asks Simon to send him a copy of his passport, his birth certificate and his school transcript. He tears a sheet out of my notebook, writes down his e-mail address and hands it to Simon.
“You have to send this to me immediately,” Owinje says. “Tomorrow.”
Simon is nodding along silently, but it’s clear he has no idea how he’s going to manage this. Owinje pulls aside another South Sudanese player and repeats the instructions. They’re delivered to Simon again in his own language. More nodding and an equally blank look. After a while, Owinje moves off to talk to another camper.
Simon is left alone, staring at the piece of paper. He’s still standing there as I leave.
A week later, Owinje tells me he’s yet to hear back from Simon.
‘I cannot go in there’
this year’s camps end in Kigali. By the time we get there, the energy is starting to flag. Kigali itself is a contributor – a hot, slow and stately city. It gives off a Mediterranean ease.
The players here are the most polished of the tour, but lacking competitive bite. In the Kenyan camp, the kids went in under the basket with elbows up. The Rwandans are loath to challenge each other physically. You wonder if recent history is a factor. One of the results of the 1994 genocide was a countrywide switch from French (favoured by Hutus) to English (the second language of Tutsis). Those ethnic designators are no longer discussed, but you can’t scrub a culture clean in a single generation. Every one of these boys will insist to you that he speaks English, whether or not he can. You can feel an aching effort to blend in.
The most notable person here – both in terms of pedigree and perhaps ability – is Ian Kagame, 19-year-old son of the Rwandan president.
He’s a rangy, charming young man. He’s been educated at a northeastern U.S. prep school, and speaks in perfect American idiom. For him, basketball is a bit of fun. He has rather larger ambitions.
“I might try to walk on to my college team. I’m not sure,” he says, shrugging. He will compete at high-jump and long-jump. He’s bound for Williams College in Massachusetts. You may not have heard of it, but it’s a place where the truly powerful are educated.
On the first day, Kagame is easy to pick out for a bunch of reasons. First, he shows up in an armed motorcade. There are bodyguards at every point of egress.
Ian Kagame, son of the Rwandan president, enjoys the kind of privilege other boys at the camp don’t. While they hope to escape poverty, he will attend Williams College in Massachusetts.
Adrian Armstrong for The Globe and Mail
I might try to walk on to my college team. I’m not sure
One day, it begins to rain suddenly. I’m standing just outside, watching. One unlucky passerby stops under a nearby tree for shelter. A guard suddenly appears and begins vigorously shooing him away. No stopping. When Kagame comes outside to do a filmed interview, his guards arrange their 4x4s to shield him from the street.
The other campers know who he is, and keep a slight distance. I learn to find him in any huddle by staring at the ground. All of the others are wearing white running shoes donated by Nike. Kagame sticks with garish, purple Air Jordans.
Ujiri gives the same pep talks. He gets the same muted response. Unlike the teens in Kenya, many of these young men seem anxious not to be noticed. Whenever one of them is singled out, he flinches.
On the afternoon of the first day, Kagame’s older sister, Ange, arrives and sits down with representatives of the Rwandan basketball federation. Like her brother, she’s formidably tall – perhaps 6-foot-4.
My most vivid memory is of the end of the first day. Ange Kagame comes out onto the court and begins lazily taking shots in street clothes. The campers are about to leave, but stop. They return and form a silent semi-circle around her, watching. They stand like that for long minutes, until she’s ready to go. I’m not sure if this is respectfulness or awe or some combination thereof, because she isn’t particularly skillful.
On the final night, Ujiri and his friends go to President Paul Kagame’s house for dinner. The Rwandan leader has taken a strong interest in Ujiri’s career. Kagame tells Ujiri that he’d woken in the middle of the night to watch Raptors’ playoff games in April. That hadn’t ended well.
“I was shocked,” he said.
Here is a man who knows what the word truly means. Somehow, he has recalibrated a country so that “shocking” can still be used ironically. That’s among the many miracles that have taken place in Rwanda over the past 20 years.
On the afternoon before departing, the group visits the memorial to the Rwandan genocide. Two hundred and fifty thousand people are buried there on a stretch of ground about the size of a subway platform. These were the scattered remains that had been hidden or gone unclaimed five years after the mid-90s slaughter.
It took about 100 days to kill 800,000 people. Most of it was done intimately, with a machete or club. Two weeks in, the interim president gave a speech. “Let jokes and fun give way to work,” he said.
By “work” he meant the mass murder of his neighbours. It’s a word you hear a great deal on a practice court – “Good work,” “Work hard,” “Put in the work.” It’s astounding how easily it can be perverted.
You emerge from the sepulchral silence of the genocide museum into a verdant courtyard. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. From that vantage, you see the thronged hills of Kigali spread out around you. You imagine each of the twisting roads as part of a dead-end maze, quite literally. There would have been no way out. It is a living topography of death.
After we came out, one by one, Ujiri moved off to a spot by himself. For a long time, he intently watched the children of one of our fixers – two boys and a girl, all under five years old – chase each other about. The guide, Richard, remained outside while we toured the exhibits, including a room filled with skulls.
“I cannot go in there,” he said. Nobody wanted to ask him why.
After the hopeful exuberance of the Giants of Africa camps, it’s a powerful memento mori. It makes the game of basketball seem far less important, and the simple camaraderie of sport much more so. Perhaps hope exists somewhere in the middle.
It is impossible to say where any of the 200 or so young men at this year’s Giants of Africa will end up. The chance that basketball will be their vehicle to a better life is small. But it still exists.
Even a glimpse of that possibility can have an outsized effect. Ryan Otsimi, the too-short, too-old striver in Nairobi, struggles to put this into words. He’s not really clear on who Ujiri is, or what he’s done. He just knows it’s something he’d like to do as well.
“My coach talks about him. When I heard he was here, I knew I would want to see him,” Otsimi says. “Everybody was saying he’s so tall. Then I saw him at the gate and I thought, ‘He’s not that tall.’ But he’s here. I’m looking at him. What can stop me from seeing Derrick Rose? What can stop me from seeing anybody?”