Masai Ujiri 1-on-1: On culture, technology 2017-18 Raptors

Sometimes it takes someone else to point out what is right in front of you in plain sight.

Such was the case for me during a recent interview with Masai Ujiri. Over the course of our conversation we talked about leadership, team culture and his charity work. More on some of those topics in future stories to come.

But it was Ujiri’s views on Canada that inspired this video of what I think Toronto and the Raptors have come to represent.

Some franchises in the NBA take on the personas of the cities they play in. The Golden State Warriors are cutting edge and collaborative, like many companies in nearby Silicon Valley. The Lakers and Magic Johnson value glamour and celebrity culture in a way only a team in Los Angeles could or would. The Boston Celtics love to cast themselves as revolutionary underdogs, even though they carry great influence and have deep resources.

The Raptors are a diverse franchise, like the city they represent.

Canada had 12 players on opening night NBA rosters. for the fourth straight year Canada has the most international players in the NBA. All but two of them spent some of their formative years growing up within driving distance of the Air Canada Centre.

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The NBA’s lone Canadian team, Toronto Raptors, is tied with the Utah Jazz with an NBA-high seven non-U.S. players each. The multicultural makeup of the team is a facsimile of the smorgasbord of surnames and languages you find at the Air Canada Centre on a given game night.

“I’m going to use the opportunity that we have, the country has, a city like Toronto has as much as we can because I’m doing it with all honesty. I do think it’s a beautiful country, I do think it’s an unbelievable city, I think we’re in one of the most peaceful places in the world. That has the quality of life that anybody in this world would want. I’m proud of that. Yes, I should be making noise about. I have a platform to talk about it.”

When you hear him talk like that you can understand why he wasn’t as enamoured with the New York Knicks front office vacancy as many speculated.

Ujiri has been open about the contrast between Justin Trudeau’s Canada (who Ujiri considers a personal friend) and Donald Trump’s America and how that might benefit the team in recruitment.

While accepting an award in Toronto recently for his dealing with the media, Ujiri said: “I want to thank Donald Trump for making Toronto an unbelievable sports destination.”

The Raptors president was only half kidding. Remember, Canada’s immigration site crashed during Trump’s 2016 election.

On the possibility of player protests, he claims: “nobody is getting fired here,” no matter what the Commander-in-Tweet calls for from his social media pulpit.

I left the conversation with a more profound takeaway: That sometimes, even from a sports figure, it is important to receive positive reinforcement about where you are from and what your home stands for. Civic pride is instilled more so by sports teams than it is by social programs.

“We should talk about where we’re from and we should talk about what we have,” Ujiri said. You know, like be proud of it. I’m proud of Toronto. I’m proud of Canada. I’m proud of the NBA. I’m very proud of it.”

Sometimes it takes an outside perspective for us to recognize what we already know. The way Ujiri and his organization represent Canada is a welcome reminder and something we all should be proud of.

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