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Volume 21 No. 34
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Ujiri: Blending business and basketball

Ujiri was closely involved in the launch of the team’s “We The North” marketing campaign.
Photo: giants of africa

Guiding the Toronto Raptors’ basketball operations is paramount for team President Masai Ujiri, but he’s equally committed to building the right team off the court, keeping a close eye on the team’s business strategies, ticket prices and revenue growth.

 

“You have to shape our team in a way that brings business for the team and the city,” he said. “I treat this like it’s my dad’s business and I’m not going to spend stupid. Sometimes we will make mistakes but you can’t be reckless.”

Developing executive talent is a key focus.

“What has impressed me is his willingness to broaden his scope not only on the NBA game but also managing people in all we have to do,” said Wayne Embry, an NBA front-office veteran who is a senior adviser with the Raptors. “He’s unassuming but he has a deep passion to win and is not afraid to express it. He works hard at motivating his staff and the people he works with.”

Ujiri is known for making bold player moves. In 2010 while at Denver, he traded superstar Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks as part of a blockbuster 12-player deal. It was a tension-filled trade for the then-unproven general manager, but those who know him weren’t surprised he pulled it off.

“Masai is very disarming and in order to make a deal, you’ve got to trust the person on the other side,” said John Gabriel, former general manager of the Orlando Magic. “There is no ego with Masai.”

Ujiri also is willing to make provocative front-office moves. Last summer, he promoted then-assistant general manager Bobby Webster to general manager, making the 32-year-old the youngest GM in the NBA.

“He won’t say he’s successful until we’ve won,” Webster said. “He’s inclusive but he is tough. He wants everyone to feel a part of it because he believes it’s how you get the best answer.”

Ujiri hired and then promoted Teresa Resch to vice president of basketball operations and player development, putting her among the league’s highest-ranking female team executives working in basketball operations. Resch is one of nearly a dozen women now working within the Raptors’ front office.

“He saw something in me before I even did,” Resch said. “He is willing to take someone who others wouldn’t necessarily see in a role and he puts them in an environment to succeed. He isn’t afraid to surround himself with people who don’t agree with him and that’s not always the case. If you don’t have an opinion, that’s a bad thing.”

It’s a management philosophy based on empowering others to make decisions.

“You can’t be afraid to hire smart people,” Ujiri said. “I also look for character and fit. I think I can read people.”