Masai Ujiri highlights the importance of Basketball Africa League

As Toronto Raptors fans anxiously await an update on Masai Ujiri’s future with the team, the Raptors president recently sat down with CNBC Africa to discuss his success with the organization and the importance of the Basketball Africa League (BAL).

The BAL is a joint effort with the NBA and FIBA, which was established in 2019. The league is the NBA’s first one to operate outside of North America, featuring 12 club teams across Africa focused on building the foundation for club competitions, and just completed its inaugural season in May.

“I think the BAL is very sensible that they have to learn from the NBA, G League, and Euro League to expand,” Ujiri said. “I think they’re [BAL] doing an incredible job, I’ve been a part of programs where they’re trying to learn how other teams scout and how their coaching staff, front office, youth development or medicals work. It’s very important for these people to get that.”

Ujiri, who has served as the director for Basketball Without Borders Africa program, is committed to discovering and highlighting basketball talent in Africa. He established Giants of Africa in 2003, a foundation dedicated to growing the game of basketball within Africa while also educating and enriching the lives of African youth with emphasis on hard work, accountability, honest living, and positivity.

“Every different country has a border with different rules and governance and sometimes we don’t all work together,” Ujiri said. “It’s beginning to come and I think that opening of borders and free trade are really going to enhance this.”

When asked about how the Basketball Africa League could maintain the same competitive level as the NBA, the 50-year-old champion stressed that it’s up to them to find solutions in order to help level the playing field.

“It’s patience, you have to prove yourself and we have to be creative in the continent because I don’t think somebody is going to come and say ‘We’re going to move Nike aside and we’re going to give you this,’” he said.

“It’s difficult because the NBA has reached a certain standard, but on the continent of Africa, we have to be creative and it’s important that we address that. It’s important that our culture, the way we do things, and businesses are involved and brought into this.”

Ujiri further discussed the importance of strategy and how to help teams gain more exposure like when the organization made Drake the Raptors' official global ambassador in 2013.

“He’s probably the most popular entertainer in the world now and he’s with our city, so why not make him the ambassador of our team? There are strategies like that that you have to build and this lifted us up with “We The North” and how we grew as a team,” Ujiri said. “We may not have some of the things that the Lakers or Heat have, but this is how we can lift ourselves and this team saw the value of this and it brought great exposure and great conversation. It’s an unbelievable strategy.”

Since joining the Raptors in 2013, Ujiri has been a key factor in the organization’s success as he helped the team make the playoffs in seven consecutive years and captured their first NBA Championship in franchise history in 2019. However, despite the success, he hasn’t forgotten the values instilled by his parents.

“I have incredible values from my parents that taught me to be honest, respect your elders, respect women, and it comes back to me all the time, you really learn so much from those things,” he said. “My values are simple, just treat people like how you would want to be treated.”

While his tenure with the Raptors remains unknown, Ujiri continues to be a prominent basketball figure in Africa.

“I’m just a kid that grew up in Northern Nigeria that fell in love with a basketball game that believes in an unbelievable sport,” he said. “I believe in Africa.”