Masai Ujiri is one of the most influential leaders in the NBA, leading the Toronto Raptors to their most successful period in franchise history, including an NBA Championship – the first in their 24-year history, and the only team outside the United States to do so. At the same time, his Giants of Africa Foundation has lead talented African Players to compete at the highest levels in basketball. Now, Masai speaks about how he applies his leadership skills to win on and off the court, lift up those around him, and develop the next generation of leaders.
Ujiri has dedicated much of his life to empowering youth in Africa. He founded Giants of Africa in 2003 with the mission of using basketball as a tool to enrich the lives of African youth globally, and create opportunities for them to realize their potential. Over the past 17 years the organization has traversed more than 17 African countries and territories conducting camps, building courts, and facilitating youth outreach. Masai also served as director of the NBA’s Basketball without Borders program. He speaks throughout the globe on his philanthropic values, and desire to better the lives of others.
Masai is an active voice in the social justice movement, and has always been a strong advocate for equality. His very public experience with racism during the 2019 NBA Championships sparked national and international headlines, and lead to the Humanity movement – a platform to continue the conversation on social justice and what it means to be a human being. Masai now speaks passionately about the fight for equality, and how we can work together build a future without discrimination.
Building Strong Business Cultures
Masai has a proven ability to build strong business cultures. As President of the Toronto Raptors and Founder of the Giants of Africa Foundation, he is known for fostering greatness within organizations, and isn’t afraid to take risks. In his talks, Ujiri uses his own story and journey to highlight how to build strong and sustainable business cultures, and brings attention to the importance of equity and inclusion.
Masai Ujiri believes that when women win, we all win, and to uplift communities, we need to begin by uplifting women. Masai uses his many personal experiences, such as growing the Toronto Raptors staff from one woman in 2013 to 15 strong female leaders to date, and impacting hundreds of young females through Giants of Africa women’s camps, to teach how to provide equal opportunity and champion women.
Masai Ujiri: Speaker Spotlight on Purpose Driven Leadership
President – Toronto Raptors; Co-Founder – Giants of Africa
When his friends and classmates in Nigeria were playing soccer, Masai Ujiri was watching highlights of Hakeem Olajuwon. His love of the game brought him to college in the United States, and when his career on the court was complete, his career off-court began.
He started on the ground as a scout, working for teams traveling the world and searching for talent in gyms all over the globe. Masai was named general manager of the Denver Nuggets in 2011, becoming the first African GM in pro sports, and won the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year award. In Toronto, he has served as director of global scouting and assistant general manager, and in 2013, Masai was named President of the Toronto Raptors, a title he holds to this day.
Under his leadership, the Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championship, the first team outside the United States to do so.
Masai has said that while he is proud to be the first African team president in North American sports, he would consider it a failure if he was the last: “Being first is good, but I don't want to be the only one. There have to be more.” Masai’s belief in equity and diversity is reflected in his organization: he has committed to hiring women, and recently creating the position of vice-president of organizational inclusion and diversity.
Masai has served as director of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Africa program. He has travelled with the Prime Minister as part of the Canadian delegation to the 2019 African Union meetings. He has been named Toronto’s most influential person, and his urging of citizens to “believe in this city – believe in yourselves” is often cited as a rallying cry. Masai and his wife, Ramatu, live in Toronto with their children.
In 2003, Masai co-founded Giants of Africa, an organization which uses sport as a tool to enrich the lives of youth on the continent, and create opportunities for them on and off the court. Masai’s ethos is to “Dream Big,” and now GOA connects with youth – both boys and girls - in more than 17 African countries and territories.
The summer of 2018 marked 15 years of the organization, and that July, Masai and former U.S. President Barack Obama opened the Giants of Africa court at the Sauti Kuu Foundation Sports, Resource and Vocational Training Centre, in Alego, Kenya. In summer 2022, the inaugural Giants of Africa Festival will bring together 200 youth from 11 countries in Africa to Kigali, Rwanda for a week-long celebration of basketball, education, culture, and entertainment.
In 2020, Masai launched thatshumanity.org, inspired by his experiences and the lessons learned from leaders like Nelson Mandela. “For me,” he says, “it’s about seeing each other. Really seeing. Trying to understand what someone else is going through. And helping if we can. Even if it’s just a kind word. Some encouragement. That’s humanity.”