Raptors President and General Manager Masai Ujiri saw a labour of love enjoy a milestone on Sunday, as hisGiants of Africa foundation celebrated its 10-year anniversary in Toronto.
Giants of Africa has used basketball as a tool to help enrich the lives of African youth with some impressive results over the last decade. Kids involved with the foundation’s Top 50 Camp and Big Man Camp have gone on to play at numerous levels, including American high schools and universities and junior club teams across Europe.
It’s also helped open doors to education, as 100 participants have attended university in Ujiri’s home of Nigeria because of their involvement with the foundation.
Changing the face of the game across a massive continent presents a major challenge for Ujiri, who launched the foundation as a series of camps in Africa when he was cutting his NBA teeth as a scout in 2003. But for the 43-year-old, his involvement has never really felt optional.
“It’s who I am, it’s what I do,” Ujiri said Sunday when asked what 10 years of Giants of Africa has meant to him. “If I wasn’t doing this job here, I don’t know what else I would do. For me, basketball is great, basketball is what I know and Africa is what I know.”
Many of Ujiri’s family, friends and an impressive gathering of colleagues past and present were gathered at the event, ranging from his own youth coach Oliver Johnson to NBA Deputy Commissioner and CEO Adam Silver. The support from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment was also strong, with MLSE Chairman Larry Tannenbaum, President and CEO Tim Leiweke and members of the Raptors front office such as Executive VP of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and VP of Basketball Management and Strategy Bobby Webster all on hand.
While the night was about reflecting back on what’s been achieved, Ujiri is constantly dreaming big about what’s next for Giants of Africa. Giving kids earlier access to the game is a priority and to get there, increased funding is needed to strengthen the existing grass roots system.
Sunday’s event featured some incredible photography of youth involved in the foundation up for silent auction, as well as several signed unique Raptors items. Proceeds will help upgrade training facilities, improve the development of coaches and increase the quality of basketball administration across the continent.
Ujiri’s role and responsibilities have grown tremendously in the NBA over the last 10 years, but he remains as passionate about giving back to Africa as President and GM of the Raptors as he was as an unpaid NBA scout. Perhaps even more so.
“It means the whole world, just to see the growth of kids and the camp” Ujiri said, “but in my mind, I have have to plan the next 10 years now. That’s what I have to do. We can’t stop doing what we’re doing, this is big. It’s huge for our organization and I’m looking forward to the next 10 years.”