Raptors President and General Manager Masai Ujiri is one of millions who have been moved by the life and legacy of South African revolutionary, philanthropist and politician Nelson Mandela, who passed away last week at the age of 95.
As the NBA’s first African-born GM, Ujiri has unique perspective on Mandela and delivered a touching tribute to him at the end of his post-trade news conference on Monday.
Ujiri grew up in Zaria, Nigeria watching Mandela’s inspirational fight for peace in South Africa and described how he respected and identified with it recently in an outstanding column from Bruce Arthur of the National Post.
“No matter where you are in Africa, whether you are in Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, no matter where, there is that enormous respect,” Ujiri said. “People study it, they study the history, they study his cause. Maybe because we were closer, and maybe because we were not all privileged.”
Basketball would go on to take Ujiri around the globe and back to Africa frequently, as he’s frequently returned to Johannesburg to help youth and provide opportunity with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program.
It was through that work that Ujiri would have the opportunity to meet the man known to so many as Madiba, a brief but indelible moment in his life that he shared with Sportsnet’s Prime Time Sports on Monday.
Mandela was celebrated at a memorial service in Soweto’s FNB stadium on Monday, with his funeral taking place Sunday in his childhood village of Qunu.