Ujiri Hosts Star-Studded Day Of Tribute To Life Of Mandela

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

Thursday, June 19th marked the 24th anniversary of Nelson Mandela first coming to Toronto to bring his message of change. Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri did not let the day pass without paying tribute to his hero.

In the afternoon, Ujiri, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, Amir Johnson and former NBA great Dikembe Mutombo visited Nelson Mandela Park Public School to spread Mandela’s message.

Johnson — who was pleased to inform reporters he did not need offseason surgery on his ankle— shared a story about Mutombo blocking one of his shots as a rookie and delivering his classic finger wag. He was also touched by the reception from the children as the group entered the gymnasium.

“It was very inspirational,” Johnson said. “Very inspiring to hear Masai, Mutombo speak.

“I’m still kind of overwhelmed myself at how many people look up to me, when the kids are screaming. It’s a very big ordeal.”

Later in the evening, each attended Ujiri’s ‘Madiba: An Evening Honouring Nelson Mandela’ benefit. The event, hosted in Toronto’s Distillery District, paid tribute to the life and legacy of the former South African president.

“It’s special to me in my heart because I’ve met him a couple of times and he dedicated his life,” Ujiri said. “He was the father of Africa and I am one of the millions of sons.”

The guest list for Thursday’s benefit included DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Toronto FC’s Jermain Defoe, and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Luol Deng. Aloe Blacc performed and Wolf Blitzer co-hosted the event which raised funds for the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Ujiri’s Giants of Africa foundation.

Related: Watch Red Carpet Video From The Madiba Tribute Event

Also in attendance were Nelson Mandela Foundation chief executive Sello Hatang, NBA Africa vice-president and managing director Amadou Gallo Fall and South African anti-apartheid activist Tokyo Sexwale.

As people floated along the red carpet, the vibe was a positive one in celebration of Mandela’s greatness.

“I have to give back,” Ujiri said. “For me, it would be a failure if I could not give back.”

Lowry called Ujiri a great man and spoke of how the sport of basketball has changed his life. He said there was zero hesitation about attending when Ujiri extended the invitation his way.

“He’s the most upfront, honest guy you’re going to deal with,” Lowry said. “He’s very vocal but he knows how to get his point across at the same time by not screaming and yelling.”

MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke had similar praise for the dedication his general manager has to his native Africa.

“[He] amazes me with his heart, his commitment, his thoughts and prayers that continue to go back to his roots, and for the trials and tribulations that many in South Africa still go through every day,” Leiweke said.

Defoe chatted about England’s World Cup loss on the red carpet, but grew serious when speaking about Mandela's legacy, calling him an angel who wanted to make change and help others.

Now in a position to effect change, Ujiri has continued to speak out about what is important to him. Since founding Giants of Africa in 2003, Ujiri has been committed to using basketball as a tool to help empower youth in Africa. 

Ujiri spoke of Mandela’s message of kindness and of the importance of giving back to children to create a brighter future.

“The more you give, the more you grow,” Ujiri said.

Masai Ujiri at Nelson Mandela Park Public School

Masai Ujiri, Dwane Casey, Amir Johnson and Dikembe Mutombo visited Toronto’s Nelson Mandela Park Public School to share Mandela’s story with future generations.

Raptors Join Ujiri For Day Of Tribute To Mandela

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Masai Ujiri at Nelson Mandela Park Public School

Masai Ujiri, Dwane Casey, Amir Johnson and Dikembe Mutombo visited Toronto’s Nelson Mandela Park Public School to share Mandela’s story with future generations.
Jun 19, 2014  |  03:24

Masai Ujiri - June 19, 2014

Raptors president and GM Masai Ujiri speaks about inspiring youth and the power of sport at his Madiba Tribute Event.
Jun 20, 2014  |  02:03

Tim Leiweke - June 19, 2014

MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke on why attending Thursday's Madiba Tribute Event was important to him.
Jun 20, 2014  |  01:57

Dikembe Mutombo - June 19, 2014

Former centre and NBA ambassador Dikembe Mutombo on paving the way for African players and Nelson Mandela's message of hope.
Jun 20, 2014  |  02:00

Dwane Casey - June 19, 2014

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey on his memories of Nelson Mandela and more on Kyle Lowry.
Jun 20, 2014  |  02:45

Kyle Lowry - June 19, 2014

Kyle Lowry returns to Toronto to attend Masai Ujiri's Madiba Tribute Event.
Jun 20, 2014  |  02:36

DeMar DeRozan - June 19, 2014

DeMar DeRozan on why he chose to attend Masai Ujiri's Madiba Tribute Event in Toronto.
Jun 20, 2014  |  01:30

Amir Johnson - June 19th, 2014

Amir Johnson talks about what the legacy of Nelson Mandela means to him, his offseason to date and more.
Jun 20, 2014  |  02:50