U.S. law enforcement officials allege Raptors president Masai Ujiri assaulted a police officer at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., moments after the Toronto team won its first NBA championship, but an eye witness disputed the authorities’ account of what happened.
A spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said Ujiri was making his way to the court to celebrate his team’s historic win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday when he was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy and asked for his credentials.
"This deputy had no idea who (Ujiri) was," Sgt. Ray Kelly said in a phone interview Friday.
Ujiri didn’t have the credentials on him, Kelly said, adding that the former NBA executive of the year then allegedly pushed the deputy out of the way in an effort to get on the court.
"Our deputy pushed the man back and told him he couldn’t go onto the court," Kelly alleged. "At that point, the gentleman pushed our deputy again, and during that push his arm struck our deputy in the jaw."
He said at that point, NBA security intervened and Ujiri was able to get onto the court. A local television station, NBC Bay Area, shared video from the immediate aftermath of the alleged incident that appears to show another man separating the deputy from Ujiri, who is then led onto the court by Raptors guard Kyle Lowry.
Kelly told the San Francisco Chronicle that authorities will push for a battery charge against Ujiri.
"We’ll be submitting a report to the Alameda County district attorney for complaint of battery on an officer," he said in a report distributed by The Associated Press.
He said prosecutors will decide whether to charge Ujiri.
A Warriors fan who witnessed the incident told The AP that the sheriff’s deputy didn’t ask for any credentials before putting his hand on Ujiri’s chest and pushing him. Greg Wiener, a 61-year-old season ticket holder, said Ujiri then shoved the officer back before bystanders intervened.
Wiener said he was standing next to the officer when the encounter occurred but was not interviewed by authorities.
Kelly said that rather than arrest Ujiri on international television, the department decided to take the "high road" and file a misdemeanour complaint to local prosecutors. He said the officer was not seriously injured in the alleged incident, but did complain of pain in his jaw.
Asked about the appearance of a well-known executive being held back from celebrating a historic win with the team he built, Kelly said optics were of no concern.
"There is a credentialling policy that the NBA has in place. Everybody from the top executives all the way down … know that you must wear credentials to get on the court," he said.
"We would expect more from a team president."
A spokeswoman for the Raptors said they were co-operating with the U.S. authorities and looked forward to resolving the situation. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office said it expected to look into the matter sometime next week.
Kelly told The AP the deputy involved in the alleged encounter complained of pain in his jaw and was taken to a hospital for evaluation.
— With files from The Associated Press.