Ujiri, Raptors Celebrate The Life Of Nelson Mandela At 2nd Annual Giant Of Africa Event

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

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There was more than just a thrilling basketball game that took place Saturday at Air Canada Centre. Before and after the Toronto Raptors played host to the Golden State Warriors, Masai Ujiri and the organization hosted the second annual “The Giant of Africa” celebration to honour the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, former South African president, Nobel Peace Prize winner and hero.

“Nelson Mandela knew that sport has the power to inspire and unite people in a way that little else does,” Ujiri said. “We are honoured and humbled to be able to celebrate his legacy on December 5 for the second consecutive year.”

International soccer icon Didier Drogba, NBA legends Bob Lanier and Isiah Thomas, WNBA Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist Ruth Riley, NBA Africa Vice-President Amadou Falls, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum, and Canadian-born international model Winnie Harlow were among those on hand to help celebrate and spread Mandela’s message. The event included a panel discussion, participants sharing stories about Mandela’s impact, and raised funds for the Nelson Mandela Foundation as well as Ujiri’s Giants of Africa charity with the goal of continuing to create growth and development opportunities for African youth.

Donovan Bailey, Mark Tatum & Masai Ujiri. #GiantofAfrica

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

Despite it being the second year, Ujiri was as overcome with appreciation and emotion as he was during last year’s event.

“All of this keeps me grounded,” Ujiri said. “My continent keeps me grounded. I love it to death. I love the work that I do. I pinch myself every day of the opportunity I've been given here. You can never take it for granted.”

This past summer, Ujiri was a camp director as Basketball Without Borders hosted the first NBA game in Africa, giving everyone in attendance a glimpse at his passion. Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo played in that game and was able to make an appearance on Saturday as well.

“It’s a great thing and I’m very excited and proud of what Masai is doing,” Biyombo said. “To actually be here and see what he’s doing is an amazing feeling. Masai has done a lot for Africa. He continues to work in Africa. In an amazing way, a lot of kids lives have been changed throughout what Masai is doing. There’s not much you can say to a guy like him except thank him for his hard work because his hard work is bringing people together. When people come together a lot of good things happen.”

Jully Black opened the event by performing "Freedom" as a tribute to Mandela. After the game, Biyombo addressed those in attendance while the Raptors team and coaching staff made appearances after they finished their post-game media obligations. Donovan Bailey was also present, and Global Ambassador Drake stopped by to show his support as well.

Tatum spoke to how the involvement in team sports can teach lessons that last well beyond the final buzzer sounding.

“I think the beautiful thing about sport is that, one, people understand competition, but they also understand that in that competition there’s a respect that you have for the other party,” Tatum said. “You understand that if you work hard, if you play a team sport like basketball, you have to operate as a team. It’s not just about being an individual. Those are the values that sport teaches. People understand the hard work that it takes to be good at sports and it just brings people together. We’ve seen all along, and Nelson Mandela was a big believer in using sports to inspire change.”

Those in the league’s office have witnessed firsthand how Mandela has inspired Ujiri to use the platform he has each day to speak about things and issues that matter to him.

“I know how much Nelson Mandela meant to Masai personally and how much he inspired him and how he lives his life through the values that he learned from Mandela,” Tatum said. “It’s an inspiration to see him inspire future generations, and to inspire all of us at the league office to live those values.”

Didier Drogba and Bismack Biyombo. #GiantofAfrica

A photo posted by Toronto Raptors (@raptors) on

In a time when watching or listening to the news can bring more strife than triumph, Ujiri again turns to Mandela’s legacy and the things he has learned from his hero.

“The world that we live in today, everything that’s going on, Madiba gives us hope, gives us that positive energy,” Ujiri said. “We see all the craziness, but we are fearless. He makes us fearless and sports make us fearless and we’re lucky to be part of this.”

An enduring message that Ujiri wants to pass along is that everyone can make a difference and that actions both big and small count.

“My dad always taught me that you have to be good to the next person all the time because one person is going to help another person,” Ujiri said. “You don't have to be a leader of a big organization. You can be a leader of your brother, of a young kid, of your community. That way you affect life, someway, somehow.”


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