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Raptors’ Masai Ujiri: Altercation with officer happened ‘because I am Black’
4:55 PM ET
  • Andrew LopezESPN

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri issued a statement Thursday afternoon in his first public comments since video footage showed the altercation between Ujiri and a San Francisco-area sheriff’s deputy after the clinching game of the NBA Finals last year.

Ujiri starts the statement by thanking everyone who has expressed “disappointment and concern” since the video was released.

“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,” Ujiri writes.

“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.”

Ujiri finished the statement by saying it’s important to continue to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and others.

On Tuesday, the day the new video footage was released, Ujiri countersued the deputy, Alan Strickland, who is shown on the video shoving Ujiri and telling him to “back the f— up” as Ujiri attempted to gain access to the court.

Strickland’s lawsuit, which was filed in February, alleged that Ujiri assaulted him and that as a result of the incident, he “suffered injury to his body, health, strength, activity and person, all of which have caused and continue to cause Plaintiff great mental, emotional, psychological, physical, and nervous pain and suffering.”

Ujiri’s countersuit, which includes the Raptors, the NBA and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment as plaintiffs, states that Strickland falsified the encounter and attempted to portray Ujiri as “the initial aggressor and an inherently violent individual.” It calls Strickland’s account “a complete fabrication” that has been contradicted by video footage.

The Raptors, who improved to 2-0 in the first round of the playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, watched the footage as a team on Tuesday, according to players.

On Thursday, veterans Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka once again backed Ujiri in his fight.

“It [the video] shows why we’re supportive of the social [initiatives] that are going on right now,” Lowry said.

“It shows why we’re supporting of the Black Lives Matter. It shows why we need to get out there and vote. It shows why we need to get those guys to arrest the murderers of Breonna Taylor because there’s police officers like that officer out there who are scumbags, basically.

Ibaka added that the situation was “sad” because he felt like no one believed Ujiri’s side of the story at first.

“As a Black president in the NBA, as a Black man, it’s hard. As a Black person, you against a white cop, in this country, you know, it’s hard. Nobody is going to believe you,” Ibaka said.

“Things should never be like this in all other places. No matter where you come from, no matter your color, things should never be like that. Like I said, if Masai didn’t have that money or if he wasn’t in the position he is now, he’d be guilty. Thank God now everyone can see what happened that day. This connected us to understand this fight is far from being over. We have to stick together and we have to fight this fight together.”

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