When his friends and classmates in Nigeria were playing soccer, Masai Ujiri was watching highlights of Hakeem Olajuwon.
His love of the game brought him to college in the United States, and when his career on the court was complete, his career off-court began.
He started on the ground as a scout, working for teams traveling the world and searching for talent in gyms all over the globe.
Masai was named general manager of the Denver Nuggets in 2011, becoming the first African GM in pro sports, and won the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year award.
In Toronto, he has served as director of global scouting and assistant general manager, and in 2013, Masai was named president of the Toronto Raptors.
In 2021, after signing a new contract, Masai added the role of vice-chairman of the club to his responsibilities as team president.
Under his leadership, the Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championship, the first team outside the United States to do so.
Masai has said that while he is proud to be the first African team president in North American sports, he would consider it a failure if he was the last: “Being first is good, but I don’t want to be the only one. There have to be more.”
Masai’s belief in equity and diversity is reflected in his organization: he has committed to hiring women, and recently creating the position of vice-president of organizational inclusion and diversity.
Masai has served as director of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Africa program. He has travelled with the Prime Minister as part of the Canadian delegation to the 2019 African Union meetings.
He has been named Toronto’s most influential person, and his urging of citizens to “believe in this city – believe in yourselves” is often cited as a rallying cry. He serves on the advisory board of the Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace and Security, an organization focused on eradicating the use of child soldiers.
Masai and his wife, Ramatu, live in Toronto with their three children. In 2003, Masai co-founded Giants of Africa, an organization which uses sport as a tool to enrich the lives of youth on the continent, and create opportunities for them on and off the court. Masai’s ethos is to “Dream Big,” and now GOA connects with youth – both boys and girls – in more than 17 African countries and territories.
The summer of 2018 marked 15 years of the organization, and that July, Masai and former US President Barack Obama opened the Giants of Africa court at the Sauti Kuu Foundation Sports, Resource and Vocational Training Centre, in Alego, Kenya.
In summer 2022, the inaugural Giants of Africa Festival will bring together 200 youth from 11 countries in Africa to Kigali, Rwanda for a week-long celebration of basketball, education, culture, and entertainment.
In 2020, Masai launched thatshumanity.org, inspired by his experiences and the lessons learned from leaders like Nelson Mandela.
“For me,” he says, “it’s about seeing each other. Really seeing. Trying to understand what someone else is going through. And helping if we can. Even if it’s just a kind word. Some encouragement. That’s humanity.”- Advertisement -