Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri on dreaming and winning
Dreams do come true. And Masai Ujiri, president of the NBA world champion Toronto Raptors, is living proof of that.
After his playing career, Ujiri became a scout then worked his way up the ladder. Now, he’s one of the most influential persons in the world of basketball.
The Philippine STAR: Tell us about your story.
Masai Ujiri: When I drive home from work, I still pinch myself every day. I am absolutely blessed. I am so thankful to the NBA for giving me such a remarkable opportunity, starting with Basketball Without Borders. The opportunity I got from Kim Bohuny and Amadou Fall after I stopped playing in Europe and was trying to get into college coaching, has opened so many doors for me. They asked me to help them select the top 100 kids in Africa, because I was coaching the Nigerian Junior National team. It was an unbelievable opportunity to travel the continent. The NBA would always call me to do little camps, the US Embassy Envoy camps. I’d always be involved. I really appreciate and thank them for giving me that platform. I just fell in love with scouting and started to grow. I started to build and meet people. You serve. It’s important that you serve. It’s important that you respect the game. It’s important that you respect the players and the people that come before you. I tried to serve that way, while developing a niche with scouting in Africa, Europe, South America and Asia. Just traveling around the world.
This is the first time I’ve actually stood still in 20 years, the first time an airport is not part of my every couple of days. I just got a huge chance. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been an incredible friend to me. I am very biased with a lot of the members of the NBA. They’ve really helped me grow. Not only as a person, but also in this business. You can’t imagine, I’m an alternate governor with my team, so I go to the Board of Governors meetings with ownership. You cannot imagine going from being that 13-year-old boy to now sitting down in those meetings. From watching those VHS tapes and now in those meetings, Michael Jordan would come and rub my head very time he walked by. I’m thinking, ‘‘That’s the guy I watched, my idol. Somebody I grew up idolizing.’’ Or during the GM meetings when Larry Bird was president. There’s Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley. All these guys. I hate to give these names like that, but you think about it, me from northern Nigeria to come to this. I’m really thankful. It’s all I think about ever yday — I have to work harder and be better when this is all over.
How are you and your family doing amid this pandemic?
Everybody is holding up in these unprecedented and very uncertain times, but you know what? We thank God for health. We thank God for being together. We thank God that we’re here to fight this battle altogether. This is an unknown and the best part of this is spending more time with family. We need to slow down a little bit. Maybe we’re going a little bit too fast and this was a calling, but we’re all just trying to adjust under the new normal.
What are the characteristics that make a championship team or a championship organization?
It starts from the top. We all say ownership, leadership, culture. You have to be tough. You have to be resilient. You have to be creative. I can just keep going down the line. Mental toughness, because the season is so up and down, the playoffs are so up and down, and to really build on that championship mode and that championship team, there has to be camaraderie. There has to be understanding. There has to be the passion to win. You have to want to win. Some players play for each other. I don’t think it comes from a bad place, but there is some kind of selfishness sometimes. You have to be selfless to win a championship. The selfishness has to come from what you have to do for that team. And the will to win. Because we can say what we want, (but) sports is about winning. We play sports to win. We bring people together, we organize, and we try to make the world a better place. The showcase of what these athletes do and what the NBA even does as a whole. But sports is about competing. It’s about winning. And we had guys that wanted to compete and wanted to win.
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