June 13th, 2019 should have been one of the happiest and most joyous days of Masai Ujiri’s life. As someone who is self-made, and came from very little, he had just accomplished what most people can only dream of: he was an NBA Champion.
As the buzzer sounded, Ujiri walked out of the tunnel in Oracle Arena where he was watching the final seconds of the game. As he attempted to get onto the court to celebrate with his team and hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, he was abruptly stopped by the now-infamous Sheriff’s deputy, Alan Strickland.
The two got into an altercation that involved Strickland forcefully shoving Ujiri twice, before Ujiri retaliated and pushed back.
Unfortunately, however that’s not how the case was originally reported. Strickland claimed that Ujiri was first to use physical force, and that by doing so, Ujiri caused Strickland “injury to his body, health, strength, activity and person, all of which have caused and continue to cause [Strickland] great mental, emotional, psychological, physical, and nervous pain and suffering.”
Strickland’s original filings against Ujiri also stated that “Deputy Strickland gave Ujiri both verbal commands to stop and present his credentials and used his left index finger to point Mr. Ujiri back to the AEG official. Mr. Ujiri ignored Deputy Strickland’s commands and swatted his hand away.”
The following body camera footage was subsequently released by Ujiri’s legal team, clearly showing that Ujiri was not the aggressor in this situation, and that he was pulling the appropriate credentials out of his pocket to show Strickland before he was aggressively thrusted back.
from @bleacherreport – Masai Ujiri's legal team has released this body camera footage of his encounter with a sheriff's deputy as he tried to walk onto the court at Oracle Arena after the Raptors won the 2019 NBA Finals.
(via Diamond Leung, The Athletic) pic.twitter.com/es6TP7CJuW
— TO BE US Productions (@TO_BE_US_Pro) August 19, 2020
After the video was made public, Masai Ujiri released this statement via raptors.com:
“Thank you to everybody who has expressed disappointment and concern regarding the video that was recently released. My family and I are deeply grateful for your care and consideration.
The video sadly demonstrates how horribly I was treated by a law enforcement officer last year in the midst of my team, the Toronto Raptors, winning its first world championship. It was an exhilarating moment of achievement for our organization, for our players, for our city, for our country, and for me personally, given my long-tenured professional journey in the NBA. Yet, unfortunately, I was reminded in that moment that despite all of my hard work and success, there are some people, including those who are supposed to protect us, who will always and only see me as something that is unworthy of respectful engagement. And, there’s only one indisputable reason why that is the case – because I am Black.
What saddens me most about this ordeal is that the only reason why I am getting the justice I deserve in this moment is because of my success. Because I’m the President of a NBA team, I had access to resources that ensured I could demand and fight for my justice. So many of my brothers and sisters haven’t had, don’t have, and won’t have the same access to resources that assured my justice. And that’s why Black Lives Matter.
And that’s why it’s important for all of us to keep demanding justice. Justice for George. Justice for Breonna. Justice for Elijah. Justice for far too many Black lives that mattered. And justice for Black people around the world, who need our voice and our compassion to save their lives.
Those are the ties that bind us.
With love and determination,
Andrew Lopez of ESPN reported that the Toronto Raptors held a team meeting in the NBA Bubble to watch the video together. Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell were among the loudest voices in the room, sharing their disappointment, and pointing to this situation as an example of the police brutality, and systemic racism that players are fighting against.
The most recent developments in this case come from another statement that Strickland released just yesterday. The deputy alleges that if he had not employed force to estop Ujiri, “he would have risked having the suspect not only trespass onto the court, he would have risked the suspect getting quickly lost amid the growing crowd of folks authorized to be on the court, and committing any number of serious crimes.”
Strickland goes on to compare Ujiri to the fan’s stabbing of Monica Seles in 1993, and the mass murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, which seems farfetched, and what many are labelling as racist.
It’s important to note that none of the allegations have been proven in court yet.
Masai Ujiri is under contract with the Toronto Raptors as the President of Basketball Operations for one more season, after which he is a free agent, but also free to retire and potentially look to make an impact beyond basketball. As one of the most influential figures in sports, and someone who has the ability to empower people with every honest word he speaks, he’s certainly destined to make bigger impacts on the world than garnering championships for basketball franchises. Still, the Raptors would love to retain the centerpiece of their organization, and that’s exactly what Larry Tanenbaum has vowed to do. Oddsmakers have picked the Raptors as favourites to keep Ujiri past the 2020-2021 season. If you believe in them, Betzest has you covered for all of your betting needs.