TORONTO – Masai Ujiri’s mind was on the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, but part of his heart was in his native Nigeria.
Ujiri, who was born and raised in the northern Nigerian city of Zaria, addressed the media at a news conference to announce coach Dwane Casey’s new contract. He took a moment to speak out about the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian school girls.
“What is happening in Nigeria is an absolute atrocity,” said Ujiri, unprompted. “For me to grow up in northern Nigeria and see what it happening with the abducted kids and women there — I have a daughter, I have a wife, I have a mom and sister that still live in Nigeria.
“For what is going on there, it’s something the whole world, I think, has to look at and we have to address strongly.”
Nearly 300 teenage girls have been missing since they were kidnapped from school three weeks ago. The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the abductions. The group’s leader has threatened to sell the girls.
“Me, in my position, I honestly want to be outspoken about it,” Ujiri said. “It’s where I grew up. It should not be happening. I’m passionate about where I come from and what happens to young kids and people that deserve opportunity. I just wanted to mention that.”
Ujiri has never strayed far from his African roots since he first arrived in North America to play college basketball in Bismarck, N.D.
He became the first African-born general manager of an American major league sport franchise for the Denver Nuggets. He was named the NBA’s executive of the year while still with Denver in 2013, becoming the first non-American to win the award.
Ujiri founded “Giants of Africa” in 2003, a foundation to educate and enrich the lives of African youth through basketball. As part of the foundation, he runs the Top 50 Camp for Nigeria’s top 50 players, and the Big Man Camp for Africa’s top big men.