Highly respected Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri is one African immigrant who wishes to prove President Donald Trump wrong.
Ujiri, who moved to the United States from Nigeria in 1993 to play college basketball and later became the first African-born GM in NBA history, set out on Friday to paint a positive picture of his home continent, a day after Trump was quoted calling Haiti and African nations “shithole countries” during an immigration meeting.
“I don’t know that just because someone lives in a hut, that doesn’t mean that isn’t a good person, that that person can’t do better, that person isn’t capable of being great,” Ujiri told ESPN as part of a thoughtful interview on the progress he has seen for Africans abroad and in the States. “And just because it’s a hut — whatever that means — doesn’t mean it’s not a home. God doesn’t put anyone someplace permanently.
“I am a living testimony to that. If I grew up in a shithole, I am proud of my shithole.”
Ujiri, the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year while with the Nuggets, described his visits last summer to cities throughout Africa, including a stop at a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, where he said he met “good people and good families with plenty of hope.”
“If those places are being referred to as shitholes, go visit those places, and go meet those people,” Ujiri said. “I don’t think it’s fair, and I don’t think it’s what inspiring leadership can be. What sense of hope are we giving people if you are calling where they live — and where they’re from — a shithole?”
Trump denied using the slur in a tweet Friday morning, while Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin confirmed the words came out of the president’s mouth not once, but “repeatedly.”
Ujiri sought to make a general comment on a country’s leader using derogatory language to marginalize a select group of people. The 47-year-old has been an American immigrant success story, most recently guiding the Raptors to the top of the Eastern Conference since extending his contract last year. The Knicks had been targeting Ujiri in the offseason as a potential replacement at their GM position until he dropped out of the race in June.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the United States and Canada and I am grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been given by people, and the game of basketball, and the NBA,” said Ujiri, who spearheads multiple community service efforts in Africa. “As leaders, I think we have to give people in many places a chance to have success, not continue to put those people down.
“We have to inspire people and give them a sense of hope. We need to bring people along, not ridicule and tear them down. This cannot be the message that we accept from the leader of the free world.”