In a statement released Thursday by the Raptors, Ujiri claimed that the officer’s actions were racially motivated.
“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,” said Ujiri, 50. “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.”
Warriors President Rick Welts tweeted an apology Friday in support of Ujiri.
“To my personal and professional friend Masai Ujiri, I am heartbroken seeing the video of what should have been the happiest professional moment of your life,” Welts wrote. “It’s hard to watch and to know all that swirled around you in the aftermath. While we had no role in hiring or managing security at our old arena, it happened at a Warriors game and for that I apologize. You rose above it which doesn’t surprise me or anyone who knows you. Now … go make some noise in the bubble!”
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry also spoke out Friday following Toronto’s playoff win over the Brooklyn Nets, calling the police officer involved “a bad person, a bad police officer.”
“[The video] was extremely emotional to watch,” Lowry said. “It took away from the moment from Masai … That’s why we have the [social injustice awareness] shirts on. That’s why we’re kneeling. That’s why we’re using our voices and our platform to shed light on social injustices [and] bad police officers like that officer. Masai did nothing wrong.”
Body-cam video accompanying the 108-page counterclaim, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., shows Alan Strickland, a deputy with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, grabbing Ujiri by the jacket and shoving him, telling him to “back the f--- up” as Ujiri attempted to pull his team credential from his jacket to show Strickland. Ujiri was trying to join his team on the Oracle Arena court after the Raptors’ title-clinching Game 6 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
“Why did you push me?” Ujiri asks in the 6-minute 20-second video that includes edited clips. “I’m the president of the Raptors.” The two appear to exchange words and Ujiri shows his credential again. Strickland shoves him a second time, and Ujiri shoves back. The two were separated, and Ujiri eventually was able to join the team and do a TV interview.
“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,” said Ujiri, who was born in England to Nigerian parents. “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.”
“After being shoved and cursed at, Mr. Ujiri did not respond aggressively toward Mr. Strickland,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, he calmly asked Mr. Strickland why he had pushed him, informed Mr. Strickland he was the Raptors’ President, and held up his all-access arena credential to show it to Mr. Strickland. Rather than trying to communicate with Mr. Ujiri, Mr. Strickland chose to dismiss Mr. Ujiri’s claim that he was the Raptors’ President and ignore the all-access credential Mr. Ujiri was trying to show him. Mr. Strickland then forcefully shoved Mr. Ujiri a second time.
“Only after being unjustifiably told to ‘back the f--- up’ and shoved twice did Mr. Ujiri show any response and return a shove to Mr. Strickland’s chest. Mr. Ujiri’s defensive response was a reasonable and justified reaction to Mr. Strickland’s use of unnecessary and excessive force.”
Attorneys for Strickland have not responded to a request for comment.
In a federal lawsuit filed in February and naming Ujiri, the NBA and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as defendants, Strickland alleged Ujiri assaulted him and that he had “suffered injury to his body, health, strength, activity and person,” causing him “great mental, emotional, psychological, physical, and nervous pain and suffering.” He also filed a workers’ compensation claim alleging Ujiri “circumvented” the security checkpoint and then tried to “storm” the court and “hit him in the face and chest with both fists.”
Although Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern initially requested Ujiri be charged with battery of a peace officer, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges after an investigation ended with a meeting among the office, Ujiri and his lawyers in October.
The counterclaim, which includes the NBA, the Raptors and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as co-plaintiffs with Ujiri, alleges Strickland falsified the encounter with Ujiri, calling it “a complete fabrication” and an attempt to portray Ujiri as “the initial aggressor and an inherently violent individual.”
The counterclaim contains statements from three witnesses who say Ujiri did not hit Strickland with closed fists or make contact with the deputy’s face.
“We are mindful this remains before the courts, but we have always maintained that the claims made against Masai are baseless and entirely without merit,” the Raptors said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle. “We believe this video evidence shows exactly that — Masai was not an aggressor, but instead was the recipient of two very violent, unwarranted actions. The events of that evening cast a pall over what should have been a night of celebration, and the year since.
“While Masai has the full backing of Raptors and MLSE as he fights this injustice, we are aware that not all people have similar support and resources. This is a spurious legal action that MLSE, the NBA, and especially Masai should not be facing.”
According to the Toronto Sun, Ujiri showed the Raptors the body-cam footage on Tuesday, as the team was preparing to play Game 2 of its postseason series against the Brooklyn Nets.
“We all watched it together. That was heavy stuff, man,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said Wednesday. “Obviously we all are all privileged, and Masai is pretty privileged in his world, and you just stop and think about how good we got it, because there’s people who are going to be in that same situation walking down the street who don’t have money to fight the case.”
“It’s why we are in the situation [minorities] are in now,” VanVleet added (per the Sun), “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.”
Ujiri said Thursday that the episode served as a reminder of “why it’s important for all of us to keep demanding justice."
“Justice for George [Floyd]. Justice for Breonna [Taylor]. Justice for Elijah [McClain],” Ujiri continued. “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.”
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