How Masai Ujiri Became The First and Only African Executive in the NBA

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Masai Ujiri is the only African executive in the National Basketball Association (NBA). In 2013, he became the president of the Toronto Raptors, the only NBA team outside the United States. 

Ujiri is leading the change in black leadership in sport and even though he takes pride in being the first black and non-American executive in the game, he’s sad that he’s still the only one. Additionally, the former basketballer is contributing to the development of the game in Africa through the Giants of Africa program. Keep reading to find out more about Masai Ujiri.

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Masai Ujiri talks about his investment in African basketball. Video Credit: Forbes

Masai Ujiri’s Childhood

Masai Ujiri carries multiple nationalities. Ujiri was born in the United Kingdom to a Nigerian father and a Kenyan mother. He traveled back to Nigeria with his parents but left for the US to pursue his basketball dreams. 

He went to Nathan Hale High School, joined Bismarck State College, and finished his schooling at Montana State University Billings. After he finished his college career, Ujiri went to England to pursue a professional career.

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Professional Career

The point guard’s first European team was Solent Stars in the British Basketball League. He spent a season with the team in which he won the league. He then joined the Derby Rams and went back to Solent. The other teams he represented include:

  • Tournai-Estaimpuis
  • Hemel Royals
  • BC Nokia

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Executive Career

Masai Ujiri talks about winning his first NBA championship. Video Credit: Bleacher Report

Masai Ujiri might not have been the most famous basketball player. He didn’t play in the NBA yet his most impactful work is in the league. He got his start in 2002 as a youth coach in his father’s country, Nigeria. 

During his work, he met David Thorpe during an NBA Summer League competition in the US. Ujiri arrived with a Nigerian player who impressed the General Manager of the Orlando Magic. This earned him a position as an unpaid scout for the team. 

In the course of his work, a Denver Nuggets employee introduced him to the team’s General Manager, Kiki Vandeweghe. He hired Ujiri as the team’s international scout. He worked here for four seasons before joining the Toronto Raptors as the Director of Global Scouting and then the General Manager.

After his time at the Raptors, Ujiri returned to the Nuggets as the general manager and the executive Vice-President. In his position, he won the NBA Executive of the Year. In 2013, the Toronto Raptors hired him as a general manager and executive Vice-President. 

Throughout his tenure, the Raptors have played in the playoffs multiple times and in 2019, won their first NBA Championship. 

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Giants of Africa

In 2003, Masai Ujiri founded Giants of Africa, an organization meant to unearth basketball talent in Africa. He says the name Giants symbolizes the continent. The organization started in Nigeria but expanded to other African countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda. 

As a result of his work, the former basketballer was appointed as the director of the Basketball Without Borders Africa Program. Through this, he does camps around the continent to identify talent. 

Masai Ujiri is an inspiration to every young person. His commitment to developing the game around the world is second to none. His role at the NBA is crucial in changing perceptions around black leadership, and so far, he’s done well.

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