Masai Ujiri's Way Of Life A Tribute To Nelson Mandela

Giant Of Africa

Related Links: The Giant Of Africa Info Page | Official Press Release

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

When Masai Ujiri believes in something, he lets you know. Since gaining the platform that comes along with being the general manager of a professional sports team, Ujiri has used it to speak out about things that are important to him.

December 5th will always be important to him. Marking the one-year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing, The Toronto Raptors will host a celebration called “The Giant of Africa” to recognize the former South African president, Nobel Peace Prize winner and hero to many, Ujiri included.

“Celebrating him tonight means everything,” Ujiri said. “It’s been one year since he’s passed and he’s not forgotten. He lives on.”

Assisting in the celebration are former NBA players Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Dikembe Mutombo and Tracy McGrady, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, vice president of NBA Africa Amadou Fall, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier and United Nations goodwill ambassador and former Miss Universe Mpule Kwelagobe. 

Barkley, Johnson, Mutombo and Kwelagobe will discuss Mandela’s legacy in a panel discussion moderated by TSN’s James Duthie and co-founder of Face 2 Face Africa Sandra Appiah.

"Celebrating him tonight means everything. It’s been one year since he’s passed and he’s not forgotten. He lives on."

“When your think about a person and the person is facing injustice, conflict, human rights, poverty, diseases, whatever it is, somebody who in his own personality was fearless, somebody that was fierce in some ways, passionate, showed so much love, selflessness, all of that stuff combined was one person, I don't think you can quantify that,” Ujiri said of Mandela. “It’s very, very rare to see. For young kids, this is what this man did. In terms of trying to put all of those things together to deal with people and express himself…it’s pretty remarkable. 

“He loved sports,” Ujiri continued. “He believed sports had the power to change the world. Sports were so powerful. This was a political person. This was a lawyer. This was somebody who was in a different field and to feel that way about sports, I think it’s good because it shows what kind of heart he had.”

Ujiri hosted a benefit in Mandel’a honour in June, but wanted to mark the anniversary of his passing as well as do something during the NBA season. While the Raptors couldn’t have scripted LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers coming to town on the anniversary of Mandela’s death, they did expect to be on the court at the Air Canada Centre. In fact, they requested it.

“I wanted to do something at a game,” Ujiri said. “They were kind enough to give us a game December 5th, the day he [Mandela] passed, and to give us a great game, it even creates an even bigger atmosphere. I want this thing to be every year because he did have an effect on us and will have an effect on us forever.”

As the first Africa-born general manager of a North American professional sports team, Ujiri understands the position he is in. When he speaks, people listen, so he chooses to speak candidly and passionately about the things he believes in. With a hero like Mandela, Ujiri wouldn’t be able to live any other way.


“For me it’s a responsibility,” Ujiri said. “I understand my position. I understand my job and what the job is and what has to be done basketball wise. I do that 24/7 and it’s a huge priority for me, but I cannot be in this job and not try to affect the youth of Africa, or the youth around the world, even. Help other people in some kind of way. Whether that’s being a voice or using the foundation, or even using the momentum of our team, We the North. We’re a global team. It doesn’t all have to be about giving money. Sometimes it’s a smile that changes the life of one little kid. That’s what I want Giants of Africa to be about and honestly, that’s what Mandela was all about.”

Ujiri founded his Giants of Africa foundation in 2003 with a mission to use basketball as a means to educate and enrich the lives of children in Africa. Friday’s event will support Giants of Africa and the Nelson Mandela foundation. 

Above everything else that the evening will bring, Ujiri wants the spotlight to shine on everything that Mandela gave back in his lifetime.

“You walked in a room and he was there and it was a different feel all together,” Ujiri said. “He brought warmth, love. He brought calmness and peace. He also taught us how to speak our minds, to say it the right way. The biggest thing he taught us is to forgive. The world, everywhere around the world needs that now, deserves that now. 

“This is someone that should live on forever. That’s how powerful he was, the kind of impact he had.”

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