Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri released a statement Thursday saying that a 2019 altercation with a sheriff’s deputy — moments after his team won the NBA Finals — was racially motivated.
In his first public comments since new video was released Tuesday showing the incident between Ujiri and Alameda County (Calif.) sheriff’s deputy Alan Strickland, Ujiri thanked those who “expressed disappointment and concern” over what is seen in the footage.
“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,” Ujiri said Thursday.
“… 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.”
The video shows the moments right after the Raptors clinched their first-ever NBA championship and includes body cam footage, as well as security video. In it, Ujiri is seen walking toward the sheriff’s deputy as he tries to join his team to celebrate. Ujiri reaches into his suit jacket to show his team credential when Strickland shoves Ujiri and yells at him to “back the (expletive) up.”
Ujiri then identifies himself as “the president of the Raptors” and attempts to show his credential, but Strickland shoves him a second time. Ujiri then shoves Strickland before other arena security intervenes and Ujiri is allowed onto the court.
The footage was released as part of a countersuit filed by Ujiri. Strickland filed a federal lawsuit in February alleging that Ujiri attacked him “and hit him in the face and chest with both fists.”
Strickland said in the lawsuit that he “suffered, and will continue to suffer, physical, mental, emotional, and economic injuries, including, but not limited to, lost wages, lost opportunity for financial gain, future earning capacity, and past and future medical care and expenses.”
In October, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office announced it would not press charges against Ujiri after Sheriff Greg Ahern initially sought to charge him with battery of a peace officer.
“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,” Ujiri continued in his statement. “Because I’m the president of an 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.”
Contributing: Matt Eppers