Nigerian basketball ex-international, Masai Ujiri has gained more lofty plaudits for his exploits as president of Canada-based American league, NBA, outfit, Toronto Raptors, with numerous accolades flowing in his direction over their heroics in the finals.
Following victory against top-favourites, Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the clincher, and heading into Game 2 on home soil, Ujiri’s name was again resonating, as Canada hosted its first ever basketball league final.
Toronto was agog for the opening game on Thursday night and into the weekend, as Game 2 held on Sunday, ahead of which NBA commissioner, Adam Silver declared that Ujiri has built a fantastic team organisation.
The declaration came after Silver and Ujiri, alongside Raptors players and league officials, attended an NBA Cares event in Toronto on Friday, the unveiling of the newly-renovated facilities at the Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre.
Silver pointedly told Sky Sports NBA that Ujiri has built a fantastic organisation and his work shows the NBA’s ability to develop on-court and off-court talent through increased competition and opportunity.
Ujiri, who grew up and Nigeria, played professionally all over Europe before retiring in 2002 and earning an opportunity in the NBA as an unpaid scout for Orlando Magic.
However, Ujiri’s first administrative step in the NBA was with Denver Nuggets, for whom he worked as an international scout.
After four years, he decamped to Toronto to become the Raptors’ director of global scouting, before being promoted to the role of assistant general manager in 2008.
In 2010, Ujiri returned to Denver, becoming Nuggets general manager and executive vice president in charge of basketball operations.
Three years later he was named the NBA Executive of the Year for his work, and he remains the only non-American ever to win the award.
In May 2013, Ujiri rejoined Raptors as general manager before ascending to the role of president of basketball operations.
Following Toronto’s exit from the 2018 playoffs, he fired Coach Dwane Casey and traded away beloved guard, DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio Spurs, acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in return.
One season later, with the Raptors in the NBA FInals for the first time in their history, there’s no doubt Ujiri’s bold moves have paid off, having also acquired veteran center, Marc Gasol at the trade deadline.
Reflecting on all these, Silver believes Ujiri’s rise shows the tremendous progress his league has made in terms of ensuring talented players and executives receive opportunities to thrive in their respective roles.
Silver added: “Masai, who I’ve known since his early days as a volunteer scout in the NBA, to see how he has progressed through the system.
“To see that somebody like him can rise to the top solely on merit, that’s what you want.
“Just like on the floor, you want the players who have the best skills to get the most minutes and the most opportunity.
“You want the same thing in management. I think in some ways it’s more of a meritocracy on the floor.
“There are more obstacles to overcome in terms of management positions to make sure there are opportunities for everyone.
“But, it’s something we are very focused on and, by virtue of Masai and the organisation he has put together.
“You can see we’re making tremendous progress. What I see in Masai Ujiri and the Raptors is beyond fantastic.
“Because, when you want to be a global league, you know you want to pull from the great talent around the world.
“When you look in the ranks to executives, coaches, officials, ownership, you name it, when you are looking at a whole world of opportunity.
“People of interest in the league, who want to coach or who want to be general managers or team presidents like Masai.
“To me, that’s how you create the best possible talent through more competition and more opportunity.”