For many years, my martyrdom for Africa, sports and education have been visible for anyone that knows me well. My commitment to talking about and raising the profile of Africans within the NBA has been a mission of mine. This weekend, Africa aka Toronto Raptors won the NBA Eastern Conference Final 2019.
After 24 seasons of trying, Toronto Raptors punched the ticket to the finals and the world went crazy, including all the people who have been on this journey with the Raptors. A story that has been heartbreaking at times for true fans and at times frustrating. Last year, Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri made some bold decisions by sacking long term coach Dwane Casey and trading Demar DeRozan to San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard. A move that had the NBA world going crazy with critics going after Masai for his move and some fans doubting his decisions.
A year later, the Raptors are in the NBA Finals after 24years and Masai is a genius. But what is Masai’s story and how doe it links to women’s sport?
Masai Ujiri is a Nigerian British GM and President of the Toronto Raptors. Masai is a silent giant, walking amongst other greats globally and in doing so, setting a path for us to follow.
His win in the NBA is not just a win for the team but for a whole generation of young women and men who he has been investing in, educating and showing them the right way to the top over the years in Canada and beyond. From his work with Basketball without borders, Giants of Africa, Nelson Mandela 100years celebration and mentoring of others, prove to many that, his passion for changing the narrative when it comes to men in sport and women in sport is inspiring.
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From his humble begins in Zaria, Nigeria to London, USA, Europe and then back to the US as an unpaid scout to GM/ President – Masai’s journey to the final is a win even if they don’t win the NBA championships 2019. With everything he has done within the NBA and beyond with Basketball without borders and Giants of Africa, you may ask – what next?
Giant of Africa is in its 15th year, Masai and his founding partner Godwin have run camps for 450 players in six countries, and 150 of them were girls, the highest number ever for GOA. And when asked why this is so important, Masai said;
“It’s important because I see the women in my life that have given me the opportunity. Whether is my mother, my daughter, my wife or all the women around, they are all impactful. And then, to be honest, I see the smartness of women. I mean all the exercise we do here when you watch the girls, they are so much quicker, so much smarter than the boys. Then I question, why don’t we have equality for all?”
” Then I question, why women don’t have the same opportunities some men have? And then maybe somehow, through this game of basketball, some more girls will become more confident and use this game to achieve so much. I don’t want to be one of those guys that speak about women and they don’t do anything about it. I have employed the most women on any NBA team and I continue to speak and be a voice and help by giving an opportunity.”
Masai may not be a big fan of the spotlight or the coming of Christ, but his heart of pure, his focus and vision for basketball and sport, in general, becoming a level playing field for all is clear and inspirational to us all. He always says,
“Change is coming and I wish I am here to see it in future.”
Masai Ujiri has made a huge impact in a league that is global and you can’t help but admire his persistence and grit.
Toronto Raptor’s first championship game against the Warriors will be on Thursday 30th May against the Golden State Warriors at home in Toronto. To follow Masai’s work across Africa or get involved in Giants Of Africa, please visit www.giantsofafrica.org