On Thursday, Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri made an appearance on TNT's "The Arena," a new program created with a goal "to provide a thought-provoking forum for content on topics occurring on and off the court of play."
During his appearance, Ujiri discussed spreading social awareness with host Cari Champion and panellists Charles Barkley, Draymond Green and Jemele Hill.
Ujiri's interview followed a segment that covered the struggle endured by reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo during his upbringing as a Nigerian immigrant in his native Greece. Ujiri, a native of Kenya, spoke on what he took away from the segment, saying "it just shows us that there is racism everywhere. It's a global pandemic and this is something we're dealing with.
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"There's a story here behind immigration, there's a story here behind redemption and it shows you that, for me, humanity is the first thing you have to look at. We have to look at ourselves as who we are as people and for those people that maybe didn't treat him so well, you never know what somebody's going to become and where somebody is going to go."
Antetokounmpo and his two brothers are just a few of many NBA players with African roots, three of whom are members of the Raptors. Ujiri added that stories like these provide perspective on the bigger picture of the state of things in the world with respect to how life is viewed in North America: "The other thing I'll say is growing up, I see Giannis and other players that come from all over the world. We see America as God's own country and when we see these things happen, you see these things happen in a country like America.
"It shows in that video that the thing we question there was leadership in Greece and it shows us what we're dealing with now in America is leadership."
From there, the conversation shifted to the Raptors and their players' plans to keep the focus on social justice when play resumes. Ujiri shared that while there has yet to be a specific discussion, justice is at the forefront of the minds of the collective group: "We haven't actually discussed or gone into exactly what they are going to do but we have talked about Black Lives Matter so much. These guys are so into it and are really representing their neighbourhoods, the places that they come from. They are representing their family and they are representing America - they are representing Black America, which is I think the most important thing."
United, together. @TerenceDavisJr | #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/CDl8kTbuYH- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) July 23, 2020
Echoing the sentiments of Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet prior to the restart, Ujiri added that an important aspect of playing in the restart is players' ability to use the platform for awareness: "They see it, that's why they came to play. It was important that we came to play here, it was important for our players to come and play here and really demonstrate and show.
"First of all, there's economic opportunity and they're not giving that up." Ujiri continued, "They are coming here to play for something and to show that they want to help their families and they want to help where they come from."
The defending champs have been adamant in reminding the masses that silence is not an option, travelling from Fort Myers, Florida to Orlando, Florida in buses that read "Black Lives Matter" large enough to be read from kilometres away.
Moment: En Route- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) July 9, 2020
Open Gym presented by @bell pic.twitter.com/mm4Uvy1h8h
When asked about the decision Ujiri said "For us, we said we were going to use the bubble as a statement. We said we were going to use this place as a platform and we thought that coming in here, you have to make a statement, you have to create awareness. What you guys are doing over there is creating awareness.
"We thought, 'what greater way than to ride through Florida for three hours and show people that we know what's going on in the country?'" he continued. "And what is going on here, what Adam Silver has done here to get the league back, we are excited about that but there's something on our minds, too. And we wanted to show people that as we come in, not just the Toronto Raptors, we represent the NBA, that there's something that's on the minds of all the players and all the teams."
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The movement to work towards social justice has become a prevalent topic of conversation among players and coaches within the realm of the NBA and is part of a larger worldwide discussion outside of the sports world. Ujiri talked about what he hopes is achieved from the momentum that has been gained, saying "We have to take advantage of it. This is our time, this is a time for Black people to speak, this is a time for white people to speak. Black lives do matter. We have to think about the future, we have to think about the next generation and how we prepare for this.
"The other thing I'll say is that it's a time for us to really be true as humans and to call out when there is racism and that's why we call out our leadership." He continued, "I see a problem because there's a lot of leaders not speaking. There's a lot of people not talking and I don't know whether it's because of economic opportunities or what it is but it's time for us to think about ourselves as humans and what comes first. It's really really a time for us to address racism now. Not only in America but all over the world."
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