Last week, Toronto Life named Masai Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors President of Basketball Operations the city’s Most Influential Person. Although I was personally thrilled about this decision, a quick social media search proved that the primary reaction for many Torontonians was simply “Who?”. After an initial wave of surprise, I soon reflected and remembered that, understandably, the majority of the population does not perceive the world through a sports lens and may not be aware of Ujiri and his accomplishments.
Masai Ujiri inherited a franchise that was most well-known for its aggressively consistent mediocrity, and the team was often viewed as second-class both within Canada and the NBA. Because of this, Ujiri’s accolades and success during his tenure as the Raptors’ President has been historically unprecedented in our city. Having won Executive of the Year, Toronto’s first-ever NBA championship, and building a rock-solid winning culture starting from the ground up with the introduction of the Raptors 905 developmental team in 2015, the entire identity of the organization flipped on its head. The team’s success during this period has also coincided with a shift in the perception of the city on a global scale, as Toronto is now being recognized more than ever before for its sports teams, artists, food, and culture. This was best personified in June 2019, when millions from the city of Toronto united to celebrate the Raptors’ success. The sea of different ages, colours, and shapes at City Hall was unlike anything that had been seen before in our city, and this celebration would not have been possible without the genius of Masai. Masai Ujiri’s work with the Raptors has certainly contributed to this changing outlook, but the Nigerian’s exemplary leadership and impact extend far beyond just basketball.
Since 2005, Masai Ujiri has been a key figure in both Basketball Without Borders and the Giants of Africa not-for-profit organizations, acting as Program Director. Both camps have positively affected young athletes in Toronto/Canada, as well as overseas. These organizations promote unity and opportunity for kids that may not otherwise have the chance, and numerous Canadian NBA players and current Toronto Raptors were a part of these clinics. The 2016 Canadian film Giants of Africa highlighted all of the great things Masai and his team have done, and Ujiri is also known to have been involved in different charities and fundraisers in the Toronto area.
Through activism, philanthropy, and work as the President of the Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujiri has helped breathe life into a growing population of young, diverse people in Toronto. The surprise success of the Toronto Raptors has given young fans across Canada inspiration, and the proof that we live in a city of winners. Before the Nigerian’s arrival, the mere existence of the Raptors was one of the longest-running jokes in the NBA, but the transformation into the juggernaut that it is today is best represented in what Ujiri told the fans before the start of our championship-winning season.
“The narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone,” said Ujiri. “I think that’s old and we should move past that. Believe in this city, believe in yourself.”