TORONTO — The life of Nelson Mandela continues to resonate with Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri.
Ujiri transformed his practice court into a red carpet gala Saturday for the second edition of The Giant of Africa, an event in memory of Mandela.
The benefit honoured the former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize winner while supporting Ujiri’s not-for-profit organization, Giants of Africa.
And while Ujiri admitted to being cool and collected as general manager of Toronto’s NBA team, he was visibly moved when describing what the night meant to him.
“I’m not usually like this, I’m always calm and ready to go… but this is one thing that gets me,” said Ujiri, smiling as he wiped the sweat off his forehead.
“Celebrating a great man like Nelson… he hasn’t gone anywhere. That’s what I’m trying to preach. We lost a father in Africa [but] we want to keep his positive energy alive.”
In 2003, Ujiri created Giants of Africa in order to use basketball as a means of empowering the continent’s youth. The organization continues to establish itself in a number of African nations, providing quality facilities, coaching and instruction.
“We went into four countries this year, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya,” said Ujiri. “We’re going to add Botswana, Senegal and Uganda. We’re building a court in Rwanda and we’re building a court in Kibera, one of the biggest slums in Kenya.
“We have to continue to do more and it’s going to give these kids new life.”
Special guests shared in Ujiri’s sentiment towards Mandela’s mandates of peace and development, including NBA Hall of Famer and Raptors co-founder Isiah Thomas.
“When we started the Raptors, even though we weren’t thinking about Mandela at that time, we definitely embodied and used all his principles in terms of bringing the community together, keeping a soft heart, doing it for the love of the game, and doing it for the love of humanity,” said Thomas.
“[Mandela] pushed and encouraged me to be where I am today,” added South African sports broadcaster Carol Tshabalala.
“To see how after his passing, his legacy continues to live on is an honour for me, from South Africa to here in Toronto today.”
And while it was a busy day for Ujiri with hosting the tribute and a homestand against the Golden State Warriors, Ujiri showed no signs of wavering in his work, both on and off the court.
“Its remarkable what sports does. I don’t care what’s going on in the world, sports brings us together. I am just happy to be a part of sports.”