BY DAVID THORPE
I first met Masai Ujiri on the court, after a summer league game, a couple of decades ago, when he thanked me for helping a friend of his play basketball a little better. I gave him my card, and a year or two later he emailed and we talked about the next steps after his playing days. Then his earnest voice became a delightful presence in my life.
A lot of what we talked about: the young players in Africa who he wanted to help. Boys and girls oozing with talent and desire to make better lives. One became an NBA draft pick. Another moved in with friends in Clearwater as a high-school junior, played college basketball, and now has a Ph.D. Sometimes Masai’s work helping players get U.S. visas ended in celebrations like when the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. It was a new life to explore, full of promise. Incredible.
Masai found his footing first to help hundreds, if not thousands, of people. He has become far more than a basketball executive.
His Raptors exist in the real world: his point guard had to deal with the shoving and cursing of a billionaire Warriors investor. Masai himself suffered the indignity of a sheriff’s deputy denying a Black executive access to the court where the team he leads celebrated a championship.
But he makes his story about success, positivity, moving forward. He has launched efforts far beyond any court or field. It’s taking place in our minds, as sparks begin there before traveling globally.
Hearing that same voice today brought me to tears, reminding me of what he has accomplished. The fight is never done. I imagine that’s why he sent me the video above. With voices like his in our ears, lighting sparks in our minds, there is still so much we can accomplish.
Together. Be decent. Be human.
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