Maybe it’s his roots; Masai Ujiri grew up in West African nation of Nigeria. Or feasible, it’s because, he never saw himself as an NBA general manager; Ujiri’s background is in scouting and as he calls it, “the love of the game”. He’s also notably the first African-born general manager in any of the four major American professional sports.
Possibly still, it’s what he has done this season, winning the NBA Executive of the Year, voted on by his peers, and putting together a team that set a franchise mark for wins, just isn’t enough yet.
“I can’t just have this position,” Ujiri said. He grew up watching VHS tapes of NBA games and movies before moving to the United States to play college basketball at Bismarck State College. “You have to do something. To me, you have to win in this business. You have to win. There’s no other option than winning. Winning helps me in the continent of Africa. Just having it by my name doesn’t help me. Yeah, I could be the first and the last. I almost have to create the opportunity for other people there.”
Success, in his position, both with the organization and his upbringing, is a necessity and much bigger than this individual accolade. Recognition is not the requisite.
Ujiri was initially hired by the Nuggets eight long years ago, as an international scout. After four years he joined the Toronto Raptors franchise, moving up, to become an assistant general manager. In another four years he found himself accepting another offer from the Nuggets, this time to become the Vice President of Basketball Operations.
On two separate occasions, his initial hiring and especially his most recent promotion, Stan Kroenke has given Ujiri an opportunity that seemingly nobody else would.
“For him [Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke] to give me a chance, I don’t know anywhere else I would have gotten a chance to be in this position,” admitted Ujiri. In his short time in charge, he’s orchestrated the trades that brought both Danilo Galinari and Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets. “I really appreciate it and he’s been everything.”
No matter the circumstances, nor his pedigree, Ujiri’s job is to assemble the best team, and more matter-of-factly, to win games and NBA Championships. So while the pressure continues to mount, and the Nuggets lose in the first round of the playoffs again, this time to the Golden State Warriors, he’s aware of another big and equally substantial burden.
“I have to produce. By winning, that will change things there and that will give me the opportunity,” Ujiri continued, emphasizing his steadfast role internationally. “I have a lot of work to do to help and help grow the game over there.”