By Saheed Alawode
Professional basketball is one of the biggest sport in the world, and it doesn’t get any better without mentioning the National Basketball Association — NBA, in North America. Quite a number of Nigerians have made a name for themselves in the NBA. Players like Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets; Al-Farouq Aminu of the Portland Trail Blazers; Josh Okogie of the Minnesota Timberwolves; and many others who were quite successful as a player, but not many of them transitioned into management after an illustrious playing career.
One player who, however, has paid his dues on basketball courts, effectively transitioned into management and currently presides over the 2019 NBA champions is British-born Nigerian, Masai Ujiri.
Who is Ujiri?
Masai Ujiri was born on July 7, 1970 to a Delta born administrator from Nigeria and a Kenyan mother in Bournemouth, England. He moved back to Nigeria with his parent when he was two years old, and effectively grew up in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The young Ujiri first developed interest in football, before ditching it for basketball, when he was 13 years of age. He would spend hours watching NBA games and movies, learning all the tricks and moves and particularly idolized Hakeem Olajuwon, who he described as a great inspiration.
His family allowed him move to Europe to pursue his dream of being a professional basketballer, and consequently joined a team in one of Europe’s top leagues. After his prep school, he enrolled and played two years of basketball at Bismarck State College, which was a junior college in North Dakota.
Ujiri played all over Europe, from England to Belgium, Finland, Denmark and even Germany. After touring Europe, plying his trade, he retired in 2002 and worked as a youth coach in Nigeria.
He started his scouting career in 2002, when he impressed Orlando Magic’s scouting Director, Gary Brokaw, who introduced him to Doc Rivers and General Manager, John Gabriel, and ultimately became an unpaid scout for NBA’s Orlando Magic.
The young scout garnered enough experience and became one of the biggest scouts in the NBA. He worked briefly for Denver Nuggets, and after four years moved to Toronto Raptors and became their assistant manager in 2008.
Ujiri returned to Denver Nuggets in 2010 as the Vice President of the team and was named as the NBA Executive of the year in 2013, becoming the first non-American to ever win the award. He returned to Toronto Raptors in 2013, signing a whopping $15 million per annum deal as the General Manager of the team.
The NBA is mainly a men’s professional basketball league in North America; composed of 30 teams — 29 in the United States and 1 in Canada. Considered one of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada, the NBA is widely considered to be the premier men’s professional basketball league in the world.
As President, he has consistently led the team to the playoffs every year, winning five division titles and finishing the 2017-2018 regular season with the highest record in the Eastern Conference.
Ujiri made history in 2019, as he led his team to their first ever NMA championship since their establishment, becoming the President to win a Toronto Raptors an NBA championship.
Ujiri is keen on developing basketball in Nigeria. He has established a lot of camps in Kenya and Nigeria, scouting for raw talents and giving them a platform to excel.