Africa’s rise to relevance in the NBA goes well beyond the basketball floor. Before young stars like Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Pascal Siakam shined this season, it was one of the NBA’s brightest front office minds who was turning heads around basketball circles.
Toronto Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri climbed up the ranks to establish himself as one of the best talent evaluators and team builders in the NBA. Now the 49-year-old’s team is four wins away from bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy north of the border for the first time in league history.
Learn about how Ujiri went from little-known community college baller to NBA executive and how his rise has been instrumental to the game’s growth in the Motherland.
Masai Ujiri Grew Up in Nigeria
Born in England to parents studying in their respective health fields—his mother, a doctor, and his father, a nurse—Ujiri would move to Nigeria at the age of 2. He spent most of his childhood in the country—playing soccer until the age of the 13; when he became a basketball fanatic.
During his teenage years, Ujiri would hoop from sunrise to sundown. But Ujiri’s obsession for the sport would follow him off the court. His mother would buy him copies of Sports Illustrated and other American magazines so he could keep up with the latest happenings in the NBA. Ujiri and his friends would get together to watch tapes of old games and basketball movies to get their hoops fill when they weren’t on the blacktop.
Ujiri would grow to 6-foot-4 and continue his dream of playing basketball professionally to the U.S.