Ujiri: Altercation happened ‘because I am Black’

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri issued a statement on Thursday afternoon in his first public comments since video footage showed the altercation between Ujiri and a San Francisco-area sheriff’s deputy following 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 against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, watched the footage as a team on Tuesday, according to players.

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said he spoke to Ujiri one-on-one before the team watched it and — as teammate Norman Powell did — expressed that this situation was just one example of why the team continues to find ways to fight injustice.

“Obviously we’re all privileged, and Masai’s pretty privileged in his world, and you just stop and think about how good we got it because there’s people who are gonna be in that same situation walking down the street who don’t have money to fight the case, who don’t have 20,000 people in the stands and don’t have the abilities to countersue,” VanVleet said. “How many times do cops do things like that without the body cam on, without arena footage? It’s a tough situation.

“It’s just crazy to see how things work. It’s unfortunate, and I think that’s why we all are in the situation now and fighting for social justice and equality, because you see how quick things can get ugly just by somebody’s word or one bad cop or a bunch of bad cops — or the system is kind of crooked and it’s not designed for us.”

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