Masai Ujiri: Experts should run sports in Africa

Anulika Menanya

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President of the Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujiri

The running of sports in Africa should be left by experts and not government appointees, said Masai Ujiri, the President of this year’s winners of the NBA, the Toronto Raptors.

Ujiri, who became the first African born Executive Manager to win an NBA title, is in Nigeria to present the trophy to his home country and discuss plans to discover more talents.

Canada based Toronto Raptors became the first team outside of the USA to clinch the title after a 4-2 series victory over the six time champions, Golden State Warriors.

Masai Ujiri celebrates winning the NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors

Ujiri while addressing journalists in Lagos said the talent in Africa is incredible, and abnormal and should be paid attention to.

“Government in all countries control sports and we try to get them to the private sector as much as possible, but if we are going to reach the masses of youths we have to change the way we look at things on the government side,” Ujiri said.

“We have to put people that are experts. Every time we choose a minister, why do we always have to put somebody that is not an expert in sports all over the continent?”

“We are the ones that get the backlash in sports because we make no progress if it is not an expert. We have to put experts in the game,” he added.

Masai Ujiri becomes the first African born Executive Manager to win an NBA title

Ujiri, the Founder of Giants of Africa Basketball Clinic, called on administrators in the continent to encourage sports by building facilities to help develop the talents.

“This goes to officials, Ministers and Governors, I know there is plenty important issues but sports is a big thing that we can encourage on this continent,” Ujiri said.

“Because of the talent in basketball, and the talent all over this continent especially in Nigeria.”

“You take the East, you have big, tall people, we have to encourage them in many ways and it starts with facilities. We have to pay attention to this in our country, and all over the continent and people are slowly building it,” he added.

“I got a text from President Sall (Senegal); he built an arena in Dakar. We have to pay attention to what is going on and how we can develop talents even more”

Dakar Arena, Dakar, Senegal

REVOLUTION IN SPORTS

Ujiri lamented about the deplorable state of facilities in Nigeria including the National Stadium in Lagos, which he says could improved to build jobs for people and encourage the teams.

“The National stadium is an eyesore, if you think you are governing, there is something that we can do in that place that changes the whole landscape that will build an eco-system here,” Ujiri said.

“It will build jobs for peoples, it will encourage our national teams, and players. I encourage everybody to talk about this; I encourage Okocha (JayJay) and Kanu (Nwankwo).”

President of Operation at the Toronto raptors, Masai Ujiri

“We have to form a movement that changes things not only in this country, but on this continent. Talents are wasting in this country. It’s time to pay attention, the time is now,” Ujiri said.

“We have to shut down national stadium for a year and refurbish it. I don’t know where the money is coming from and I don’t know how we do it but I know the money is here and the brains are here,” .

“Why can’t we build this and I don’t know why we don’t see this vision. Africa is now, we have to start thinking now and the challenge is now. It’s not 10 years from now,” he added.

NBA CHAMPIONSHIP

Claiming the NBA championship trophy for Ujiri means he is the second black executive to win the title after Joe Durmas in 2004.

His thoughts immediately after the buzzer signalling the end of the game according to him, were first to his family and “the next thing I thought about was home, Africa,” Ujiri said.

“I’m proud that I won that trophy and my team won that trophy for Africa, and then I proceeded to get my Nigerian flag and put it on me”.

Masai Ujiri celebrating victory with players and staff of the Toronto Raptors

Raptors will be without the Finals MVP, Leonard Kawhi who they acquired last summer from San Antonio Spurs, and has now joined LA Clippers.

“We will be fine, we are very confident with what we do and I think he raised us to a level for us to see what it is like to win a championship in the NBA,” Ujiri said.

“We want to win and we have wonderful players and young players that we are going to grow with.”

“We will continue to build, we have come to a place now where we feel comfortable with where we are and who we are and our team will continue to grow that way and win that way,” he added.

The Championship victory was monumental for the Canadian city of Toronto, who have not won a professional championship title in 26 years.

While Ujiri looks forward to the next NBA season, his focus now is on the Giants of Africa basketball clinic which is ongoing in Cameroon. This year’s edition which began in Morocco and has been to Mali, will also hold in Somalia and Tanzania.

 

Chidi Nwoke.