By Fred Edoreh
I do not know whether to say he lives basketball or he lives for basketball, it is difficult to draw the line, but I certainly can say that Masai Ujiri personifies the best of humanity to which he has dedicated his life.
From humble personal successes as a professional player in Europe, he stormed the NBA to raise the game, sitting now as the President and Vice Chairman of Toronto Raptors which he has led from success to success, including winning the NBA Championship in 2019. It was the first time a non-US based team would win the playoff.
He had earlier functioned, at different times, as General Manager of Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets which he also returned to the playoffs, leading to his award of the NBA Executive of the Year, 2013.
Those are, however, just a part of Masai’s story.
He struck me much more powerfully when he founded the “Giants of Africa” Basketball program in 2003, to lift many African players into the global heart of the game.
The first camp was held in Nigeria and it signalled renewed hope as we welcomed a number of top NBA stars who accompanied him to teach, mentor, share experience and inspire our youngsters in the home game.
Not looking back, he proceeded to support the establishment of “NBA Basketball Without Borders” Africa Program in which he became a Director for the promotion and development of the game across the continent, and he particularly returns frequently to Nigeria to help in the organization of the Top 50 Camp funded by Milo as well as his own Big Men Camp initiative which he funds personally with the support of Nike.
His drive has been to attract local and international technical, financial and professional support for the development and growth of the game in Africa, to impact on the various basketball leagues and national teams across Africa, to elevate the experiencial engagement of the fans by keeping the game ever lovely and attractive, and especially to increase and improve opportunities for our young persons to attain gainful careers in basketball.
To these goals, Masai has given his heart. Yet, he is not done. His latest engagement is the establishment of a new personal charity called “That’s Humanity.”
He explained, very poignantly, that while the
word “humanity” is simply defined as the human collective, we should see that it is more meaningfully associated with words like compassion, understanding, empathy, respect and kindness. That’s Humanity.
Therefore, “let’s be human. Let’s be kind. Because humankind is who we are,” he called out to the world.
It was Masai’s birthday yesterday.
We are not able to physically join him in Toronto to party but I recall, cherish and celebrate him, his works, his world and the moments he takes time off to share with us back in Nigeria.