You heard it on the radio, you seen it on the TV show. Now it’s time to read the words.
Below is the full transcript of Masai Ujiri’s press conference held on August 18, 2021 where he speaks about the direction of the franchise. The video is at the end.
Wow. I want to thank everybody for being here. This is exciting. It’s actually just exciting to see everybody again face-to-face, right? It’s been long overdue that we’re all around each other. I actually can’t wait until we’re all around each other again watching basketball. This is a little overwhelming for me, but I’m going to do my best. I’m just so excited that this has happened. I don’t want this to be about me, so I thank my unbelievable family, my wife, my kids. There’s one that’s left out, not here. They mean so much to me. And my other family that are not here, mom, dad, mother-in-law, sister, brother, everybody that just mean incredible love for me and support for me. We all know this business, even with what you guys do, how we travel and all the things that we do.
I want to thank Larry and Dale and the ownership, Mirko, Edward, Michael Friisdahl, everybody that have really supported this and us continuing to go forward. I really appreciate everything, Larry, that you guys have done for me. Most of all, opportunity, opportunity as coming here in the beginning and now what the next chapter for us is. For the NBA, it’s also a big thank you. Adam Silver, everybody that gives me this opportunity to what we do even globally with the game. Toronto, as the only team in the NBA that plays outside the U.S.
To our staff, especially especially especially the players, none of us are here… This game is about the players in the NBA. Our players from beginning to now and moving forward have just been amazing for us. Obviously, what we’ve gone through here the last eight years and I know what the next journey is and what we hope it can be. We can’t say enough about these basketball players.
And then, fans, you media, everybody, what we’ve gone through the last couple of years, it’s really been hard. It’s been hard on everybody. It is so good to see everybody, put a face. I wish I could tell everybody to take their mask off, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to do as a leader here. It is so great to see people smile a little bit and see that we can actually interact in some kind of way. Man, we can’t wait to get back to Toronto here. We can’t wait to get back to playing. We can’t wait to get back to basketball, life, and I’m really extremely excited about this.
Before we go into questions, maybe, I want to talk about Kyle. It’s been really tough for us to see an incredible player like that go. I had really extensive conversations with Kyle, and it was great to spend a lot of time with him in the last year in Tampa. We knew this was coming. The direction of our team was kind of going younger. Kyle still has his incredible goals. Kyle wanted to be here, too, if that was what we were trying to do. We saw our team as kind of being in the middle ground a little bit and wanted to go a little bit younger so we can start to grow, almost like when Kyle was here in the beginning. But what that guy has done for this organization, what he has done for this community, his participation in everything that we can ask for. I mean, Kyle, we had ups and downs here, but I’m telling you, even the measure of it when you look at it, the downs were, like, this much. It was great to grow with him here.
We wish him all the best where he is. He’s in great hands in Miami and that organization. We know their standards and what they want to do. We just hope we beat them four times a year and we’ll be good that way. We can’t wait to have him back when we play them. Yes, we compete in this business. Kyle is part of this family and he’ll be part of this family forever. I know people ask… I know Larry has already mentioned his jersey. He’s going to get all of everything and some. Is Kyle the greatest Raptor that ever played the game here? Yes, he is. I’m saying it here. Kyle is the best Raptor that played the game over the course of his time. It is incredible what he achieved here, what he took on, growing as a man. His family, Ayahna, the kids, we love them. They are a part of us, and they’ll be part of us for a long time.
So, I know we will talk about this for a long time. We’ll talk about this during the year, but I wanted to pay particular attention to what Kyle Lowry has done for us. We owe it to him. He takes so much pride. I know the pride that he took in this organization, this city, and the people of Toronto and Canada as a whole.
Again, I’ll say my last… Not last thanks yous, but I want to emphasize the work my team, Bobby, Theresa, Dan, Keith, all these guys that work tirelessly trying to make all of this work in the best way that they can. I thank JQ and my leadership team. I really feel strong with where we are going with this organization. I think I can open it up for questions now. JQ?
Josh Lewenberg, TSN. Hey, Masai. Congratulations on the deal and great to see you not on my computer screen. What’s the job description of a vice chairman? How much do you anticipate your role changing from what it’s been over the years?
We were taking bets on if that would be the first question. Josh, you won. Yeah, it’s interesting. I had really great discussions with Larry and Mirko and Dale and everybody about this. There are many things we want to do, as an organization. We want to grow globally. We want to grow our business globally. I think, infrastructure-wise, we want to continue to grow as an organization and how we look at the game, just like we looked at it when we first came. Practice facilities.
I think there’s going to have to be some sort of contribution that I have in this period of COVID and maybe even after. I think there are going to be things that we have to deal with, as an organization, that I think is going to maybe even be separate from my job description as president of basketball operations.
When I look at social justice and even the opportunities for the BIPOC community here, I think there is going to be more that we are going to have to do. Obviously, with the hiring of John and Teri with MLSE and the Raptors… There are many things we want to do even working with the NBA and what the NBA is doing, building more programs, doing more partnerships with players. We want to build more as our organization and do more in our organization.
I want to focus a lot, too, on NBA Africa. There’s a lot there that needs to grow. We see the growth of African players in the league. I think infrastructure there, how we continue to see the game growing on a global stage, is really really important. And then, Canada Basketball. I just went to, even, an event with Nick Nurse and Mike Barlett. The way they are going with the game, too, and how they look at it, how we all look at it together, I think there is going to be a lot of youth talent and maybe basketball development and how we see the game going forward.
So, many things that we’ve discussed that I will have to get even more involved in in my position, but I’m excited about it. And vice chairman is just sexy. It’s cool.
Eric Koreen, The Athletic. Congratulations and good to see you. I’m looking forward to what vice chairman means. First of all, have you had any further discussions on the plausibility and likelihood of playing in Toronto this year?
Yes. We continue to have a lot of discussions about this. Our hope is that we’re playing at home. We have not looked elsewhere. We are not going to look elsewhere. We’re trying to play at home. That’s the goal for us. I told Larry and Adam and, even, Prime Minister Trudeau, that playing away set us back a couple years. We know that. We are ready for that challenge. Playing another year somewhere else will set us back five years. We are not trying to do that. We understand all the public health concerns, issues. We are taking measures. As you saw, we came up with our policy with MLSE on how we intend to even fill out our arenas as we go forward here as we try to play at home.
So, to your question, Eric, we have talked to the league. We’ve talked to public health officials. We’ve talked within, obviously, with ownership. We are all together on this, on how we want to get back to at least being safe and trying to get back to a little bit of, I think, being normal.
Justin doesn’t have much going on, so you should be able to reach him pretty quickly. I think it was your first press conference, maybe even when Tim Leiweke, his first press conference, he said, “The Raptors never wanted to be stuck in the middle.” Where do you see the roster, as it relates to the context of the Eastern Conference and, ultimately, competing for your goal, which is to bring another title to Toronto?
Yeah. First of all, Eric, honestly, we are going to create our own direction. We don’t have to go with the wave of what the NBA is doing. We are such a copycat league. We have to, I think, ride our own opportunities. For now, our opportunities are, I think, building around the young players that we have and letting them grow. We have very young veterans. They are almost at the same age at when we had Kyle and DeMar. That’s Fred, that’s OG, that’s Pascal. We want to build around these guys and the Bouchers and Kehm Birches. All these players, I think, they have a level that they need to get to. And then there’s the young crop. I think you guys saw coming that we just dropped that Scottie Barnes and Dalano… We just got Precious in a trade. Malachi. All these guys we want to really develop in some kind of way.
And I think we have some sort of good history from doing that. Three main players come from a development program. I said it here when I sat here eight years ago. We are going to develop players and we are going to build on that. I’m saying it again that we are going to continue to develop these players and we are going to find a way to a way to win a championship here, based on the development of our players. Whatever comes from that, sometimes trades, sometimes you acquire through free agency, we are just not going to cry that players are not coming here. That’s not what we’re about. I think we’ve gone past that.
Hi, Masai. Louis Zatzman, Raptors Republic. You’ve become a celebrity in this market and beyond during your time here, in a way that many front office leaders don’t in the NBA. In what way does that impact your decision to re-sign here, if at all, and also the roles that you’ve spoken about on and off the court as vice chairman?
Yeah, I don’t know about celebrity. Maybe public figure is the best way to put it? For me, we represent, as leaders, our organization, our communities. If we have a voice, if we have a place where we can speak and shed the light on issues and also help, we have to. It’s an obligation for me. That’s my interest. That’s my interest naturally. It’s kind of how my parents taught me to be.
One of the things we talked about here is winning. We always talk about winning, as an organization. We want to win as a city. We want to win as a country. We want to win on the basketball court, and we want to win off the basketball court. I think as we do this, we bring people along. That’s what’s most important, that we have to bring people along, because, honestly, everything else is going to come and go. The game remains and our communities remain, but I might not be here. Larry might not be here. He might go do something else. People might go do something else. Players might not be here. You see Kyle. Kyle is somewhere else, but the stamp he has put on here is so important to community, it goes past even what he has done on the basketball court. You see the effect that he has on people.
That’s what we want our players to be about. That’s what we want to be about. And that’s what I want to be about, to be honest. And I like it that the NBA is about that, in some ways. Yeah, we’re a business, but I tell you, the NBA is one big family. I’m so proud to be part of that family and the opportunity that it gives me.
Hey, Masai. Michael Grange from Sportsnet. Good to see you.
Good to see you, man.
Yeah, yeah. A couple of questions. Lots of them, actually. For this one, when we spoke as a group in, I think, May and there was a lot of uncertainty about are you coming back, re-signing here. You’ve kept at a distance for quite a while. What was the process between, say, the end of the season and just last week when it was announced? And what took so long? What were some of the hurdles that you were trying to wrestle with or get over if there were some?
I was wrestling with Larry Tanenbaum. In one room, we were just wrestling for two months. I understood that this process was going to be difficult, and that’s why I left it until the end of the season. Negotiating is difficult. That’s what comes in the terrain. Me and my family really looked at this and you get different options or offers that come to you. It comes a point where you have to weigh those options and see what’s best for us, as a family. For us, and for me.
Everything we went through always came back to Toronto and what Toronto means to me as a city. I call it home. It’s home for me and my family. When it comes to negotiating, we just have to talk about some of the things that are not only important to me, but also important to the organization, too. And you bring it together.
I think these guys, Dale, everybody, Mirko, I talked to everybody. I came and met with everybody. It just comes a point in your life where you meet this point and you have to go through all of that, because now you are committing again. I see this place as an incredible platform. I don’t think players have even scratched the surface on what they can do here. Toronto sits on a place where you can really really attack the world from here. So, whether it’s the U.S., whether it’s Africa, whether it’s Europe, whether it’s South America, there is a certain place where you sit.
And it gives me a platform, a voice, to speak on a lot of issues here that I think are important, global issues that are important. I appreciate that. I’m thankful for that that not only the people, not only you guys, but everybody gives me that kind of platform. It’s not written in money, but there is huge value to that.
Lastly, Grange, yeah, it took long. I feel that there is a responsibility that I want to win. We want to win. I said it from the beginning when I came here. “We want to win in Toronto. We want to win another championship.” All that stuff is from the past. Yeah, we can celebrate and be cool about what we’ve done in the past, but the NBA is about now. We are building for a future to put ourselves in position to win another championship. In some ways, there is unfinished business. Lastly, I will say I want to celebrate properly one day when we win a championship. I’m not taking a shot, I just want to celebrate well. And it’ll happen, by the grace of God.
Hey, Masai. Justin Dunk from CHCH News. MLSE just recently announced that you have to have proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test for fans to get into the facility. What’s your perspective on that? And will the players be under similar guidelines?
We’re going to work with the NBA to see what the player guidelines are going to be. I think Adam and Michele have done a great job up to this stage, and I think everybody’s interest, you saw in the finals, you saw in other arenas, is to get it back to where the game was. We, as MLSE, have to come to a place where we have to set some kind of guidance with the help of health public officials. We felt that this is fair. This is, I think, important that we all stay safe and we bring people to safe environments and to a safe arena and to safe events.
So, we feel comfortable with it. I know the NBA schedule is coming out in a couple of days here. I know parts of it has come out already. I know that schedule says Toronto. It doesn’t say anywhere else, and we are going to try to play safe here and abide by all the rules and regulations that help all of us stay safe and healthy.
Hi, Masai. Laura Armstrong from The Toronto Star. The Raptors fan base was on pins and needles waiting for this deal of yours to be announced. How would you characterize your relationship with the basketball community and beyond in the city?
Ah, the fans are our love here. That’s why last year was very very frustrating, as a basketball team. We thank Tampa and they were incredible accommodating us in their arena, but man, it’s time to come home. It’s time to come home to these fans and to everybody. They mean the world to us, not only in Toronto and in Canada. You travel everywhere and the support is like we’ve never seen.
I want to appeal to them to all come back and support this young team. We can grow again and start to build up to the championship caliber team that we want to be. But they mean the world to us and I think they know it. You saw, whether it’s Scottie Barnes or all the guys that have interacted with them on social media… I’m not on social media, but I see bits and pieces here. I see how the effect the fans have on us and we love it.
Hi, Masai. Raphael Guillemette with Radio Canada. First off, a quick question. The team announced it as a multi-year deal. How long is this deal, actually? How long should we expect you in Toronto for?
Forever. I’ll put pressure on Larry here. Forever, man. Forever. No, honestly, I’m not going to put out things there, but I’m home, man. This is it. We are going to try to win the best way that we can. It’s a commitment. I’ve always said when you make that commitment, you make that commitment. That’s what I said eight years ago and I think we honored it, as a family, and that’s what we intend to do, always.
You were never shy about your wide-ranging interests. Have you received any offers outside the NBA? And how does this offer and your new role rival with what you offered and fit your needs?
Yeah, I don’t want to go into any of those details in respect to the other opportunities that were there. Listen, I have interest in so many things and I’ll continue to have those interests in those things. How do we weave them in to what I’m doing here is some of the things I’m trying to think about as vice chairman, Eric. But yes, those are the things that I want to think about.
Yeah, people know I love soccer. It’s not rocket science. I’m not pretending that I don’t love soccer here. I love it. There are other parts of business, there are other parts of… There’s politics, there’s diplomacy, there’s philanthropy, we can go into many things that I actually really really love and take pride in, but how do we weave them into this incredible organization and incredible city and platform that we have here? We’ll see. We’ll see. We’ll get creative and we’ll continue to grow.
We have to evolve is what I’m saying. We all have to evolve in everything that we do. We can’t just be set on doing something one way. We have to think differently. Especially here in Toronto, I think we do.
Hey, Masai. Ryan Wolstat, Toronto Sun. Good to see you in person.
What’s up, Ryan?
Not much. Just a two-parter. How much do you think just the bubble and then being in Tampa played into some of the internal stuff with the team, be it with Pascal or anyone else? And how much do you think being home potentially would alleviate that? And also, maybe a third part, how do you avoid, maybe, the Dragic thing becoming a distraction or anything like that?
If you’re asking about how it has affected us, the bubble and Tampa, I say this to my staff and I say it to the players, too, is when it’s actually happening, it’s really difficult. Like, when we were in the bubble, you are in your room, your head is spinning while saying, “You’re in this space. You can’t go out,” all that stuff. When you actually look back at it, when is it going to happen again? It’s an incredible experience, incredible thing that you were a part of, moving to Tampa.
To see my staff navigate this… I think it was two weeks before we went to Tampa that Theresa Resch really put this movement of, “We’re going to play in Tampa,” putting it together. All the meetings, all the things, working with the NBA, Amy Brooks and the business side, Mark Tatum, everybody that we had to work with to get to do that. That experience, honestly, we’ll never get again first-hand.
And, by the way, I hope it never comes again, but there are many things we’ve learned from this. In terms of the players now and in terms of the team, it was hard for some of them, if not all of them. It’s not easy. I’ll give you an example. Some people have a house in Toronto. Kyle has a house in Philly, has a place in Tampa. People have three places. Then, how are we handling the insurance? How are we handling taxes? How are we handling nannies? How are we handling schools?
And by the way, these problems are big problems but there are many people in this world that go through harder, tougher problems. We’re not saying ours is any harder. I’m just saying ours, in our industry, this is how tough it was for this. There are people that are going through much worse and we completely understand that.
So, I give an example of Pascal. The games get shut down here. Pascal has visa issues, I think, and so he is stuck here in his apartment. He doesn’t want to go out and contract this disease. And so, Pascal is doing nothing between then and the bubble. The bubble comes and he’s not in the best shape that he can possibly be. It’s shortened break and then he comes into this season. Honestly, Pascal realizes this when he actually contracts COVID. He sheds. He starts to find himself. And we had the unfortunate issue with Nick Nurse. I know him and Nick have got into a much much better place and people can think better. I think everybody is in a better place, to be honest. And even if we are coming back, we are learning as you go. We are learning from all these experiences, and I know he is.
I know the fan base, people have been hard on him, but trust me, Pascal is a prideful man. Pascal is an unbelievable basketball player. Maybe because he wasn’t playing well, people come up with all this stuff. Pascal is here. Pascal is a Raptor and he’s going to be play with us.
So, yeah, the players all found it difficult, one way or the other, but I also respect them for the way they tried and gave it everything.
Hi, Masai. French radio. You said you want to win, but what is your perspective, in regards to the new trend in NBA all of these teams trying to build super team. Obviously, the Raptors, we are not in the same mindset. So, how do you see a timeline for another shot at winning again?
Yeah, I don’t know what the exact timeline for us is. It’s hard to say when you are developing players and players are growing. We are going to give them that opportunity to grow. Listen, there is going to be super teams and super super teams and there’s going to be three superstars on one team and maybe you might get as many as 10 one day. We’re not taking that route, at least not for now. Our route is to grow our young players and be excited about what we have and rely on Nick and his great staff. I think Nick has done an incredible job in developing our players and giving the opportunities for our players to play.
That’s the route we are going to take. Sometimes it might be slow and sometimes it might be painful. You watched the summer league. Some of it was exciting to watch and some of it was painful to watch. That’s the growth of the game and that’s what we want to feel, as an organization. I know that’s what the fans, too, really appreciate seeing and seeing the growth of our team.
Hey, Masai. When you came to Toronto the first time, you had kind of a list of priorities. Just, I wonder what some of those might be going forward? I think you’d discussed that you wanted to… That was going to be part of this negotiation, that you wanted to have [crosstalk 00:35:41]-
It’s a good question, Grange.
So, what’s next, Masai?
Last time when I had that list, I never said it out. The list is right here, so I will just go do it, rather than talk about it. I think that’s the best way to do it. I understand the question. You’re not going to trick me, Grange. I’ve known you for too many years.
Just a quick one, Masai. With the tampering investigation, is there anything new on that? Were you surprised by the fact that it was instigated?
It’s incredible how every NBA team has a deal done by 6:02, no? I don’t know how that happens. All I know is I gave my phone for investigation. I have no comment. That’s the only comment I have.
Hi, Masai. Yasmin, Dishes & Dimes. Scottie Barnes has already become a bit of a fan favorite in a couple of weeks with a robust cult following. What stood out about him to you as a prospect? And what does his potential on the team look like?
Yeah. To have a young player… I know, yeah, there was some talk on draft day who to draft, who not to draft, like a public opinion. I want to say, our scouting team does an incredible job of going to watch these players, scout these players. I remember a couple of our scouts sitting in Australia for 14 days in quarantine waiting to watch the prospect, Giddey, play in Australia.
Every team does this. We go at so much length to scout these players. We have a process that we go through. We have our rankings. We have our arguments. We have our disagreements. He was just a player that excited all of us. Knock wood, he has an incredible career ahead of him.
The passion for the game, winning, when you look at the levels he’s played on USA Basketball, whether it’s Under 16, Under 18, he’s won at every level. It’s crazy. You interview a guy like that and he mentions winning or win 34 times in one interview. All he talks about is winning. And this is what we wanted to bring.
Also, one day we want to play big and long. When you look at him, you look at Pascal, you look at OG, you look at Boucher, you look at all these players, and then you look at the feistiness of Fred and all of them, there is something of excitement to have these kind of players.
The growth of OG, I think he’s one of the guys that goes where people don’t talk about much. His game has jumped, and there is going to be another jump. He’s 23-years-old, still. What is the future ahead from the OG we’ve seen? I think it’s so bright. The leadership of Fred, from his relationship and mentorship from Kyle Lowry. We’re excited about him as a leader. You guys saw the leap Chris Boucher made. We’re excited about that.
How about Precious that we just got in a trade? By the way, this is close to me. You guys can call me biased all you want. A kid that was actually in the Giants of Africa camp to come and play as a Raptor? That, to me, is even moving the game forward. He’s not a cheerleader. He’s going to be, I think, a phenomenal NBA player.
This development means a lot to our organization. We want to continue to grow like that. So, yes. There’s plenty of excitement about not only Scottie Barnes but all the young players we have. How about Dalano from right here in Toronto? A young player who we believe that we got him in a draft probably the year before. He would, actually, maybe be a high prospect next year. We’re excited about that.
So, yeah, it might not be the big three and winning now, like you said, sir, like the super teams, but in our minds it’s a little super. It’s super young, but super hopeful.
Hey, Masai. Vivek Jacob of Raptors.com. Talking about Precious, for him to come full circle like that, what was that first conversation with him like? How much did it mean to him to be associated with you again?
Yeah. I remember talking to him. He was actually coming back from the Olympics. He blessed to play for Nigeria in the Olympics and he was connecting in Atlanta. I spoke to him. His first word was, “Finally.” My first word was, “You are mine now.”
Hey, Masai. Justin Dunk from CHCH News again. You mentioned that the schedule is going to come out and Toronto’s going to be the home arena for the Raptors. Is there any update with the various levels of government? And have you actually talked directly to Prime Minster Justin Trudeau’s office? And a little bit of a fun one to add on. Do you have any campaign tips for him? You’re pretty good at winning over the crowd.
Yeah, listen. Justin Trudeau is a friend of mine, even outside of everything. I support him 100% every time. So, I know there is different people that follow different things and policies and rules that maybe I don’t follow as much, but I knew Justin Trudeau, Prime Minster, even before he was a prime minster. Actually, one of the first events I went to with Journalists for Human Rights when I came to Toronto… So, I want to make it clear that some of these guys that I know are friends. I support him as a friend. So, that’s one.
Have I had discussions with the office? Yes. We have them continuously. Theresa is in touch all the time. We have committees and different groups that we work with MLSE and we continue to do that all the time. There’s stages, they’re different places, times, things go up and down, things change, but we’re in constant communication with everybody.
Thank you guys. Thank you. I appreciate you guys. Thank you.