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Anyone who has spent any time around Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri, knows his approach to a task.
It’s identify the goal, get an understanding of the task at hand to the fullest, and then go at it with everything you have.
It’s the kind of approach that landed the Raptors Kawhi Leonard for a season and ultimately pushed the franchise to an NBA championship.
And while that approach applies to the basketball team he oversees, it also applies to everything else in his life.
So it’s really not a surprise that in a 30-minute or so call with the media that covered his team, Ujiri had little to say about anything basketball related. As close as the game is to his heart, right now it’s just not uppermost of mind.
His focus is on the current pandemic, just like it would be if the task in front of him were a Game 7, he wants a win.
Typical of most of his responses was this one to a question about using this down time in his basketball work to perhaps address his own extension with the Raptors or even that of head coach Nick Nurse.
“No, to be fair that’s not where our minds are at right now,” Ujiri said. “Me certainly, this is a crucial time I think for the world and those things will come,” Ujiri said. “I’m fine. We’re fine. Honestly those are the last things on my mind. I miss the game. I miss basketball. But I have concerns for my team, concerns for my family, and concerns for the world. I have concerns about this pandemic and how we beat it, how we fight it. We have to win this one. In the business of basketball, that one (a contract extension for Ujiri) is the last (concern).”
Rather than stalking the next draft pick and doing his normally thorough due diligence on a player which is what he would usually be doing this time of year, Ujiri joked he’s spending his time stalking Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has had his hands full correcting the always-challenged president of the United States on the subject of the coronavirus.
Even the question of whether or not Ujiri thought the NBA season could be salvaged and if so what that might look like was quickly brought back to the real crisis we’re all now facing.
“I’m hoping (the season can be salvaged),” Ujiri said. “That’s all of our hope. We love our game and we love what we do. Honestly, for now, I think we salvage the NBA season is by abiding by the rules and doing everything that we have to do as people, as a community, everything we possibly can. This is not about the NBA, NBA players, NBA fans. It’s about the whole world.
“This is something that hit globally,” Ujiri said. “This is not an earthquake that hit in only one part of the world or a disease that is only in another part of the world or a tsunami — pardon me for mentioning all of these things. But this is affecting the whole world. We can want to plan the NBA all we want, and (want) it to come back all we want. Because it affects the whole world, something is going to stall that one way or the other, because we have not played by the rules.”
None of this is to say that Ujiri is ignoring his responsibilities as the president and CEO of the Raptors.
He spends his days in his home on the phone — web calls, video calls with his players, with his management team, with other team heads and NBA front office types ensuring the people in his care are first of all healthy and the game he loves remains functioning. Then there are calls with various heads of state around the world ensuring his Giants of Africa interests and his work with Basketball Without Borders doesn’t fall by the wayside while the world deals with his pandemic.
It’s a lot and it’s time consuming and to hear Ujiri tell it, it’s all just a little too much all at once.
But he soldiers on and does what he can to keep the people he lives with, the people he works with and the game he loves in as good a position as it can possibly be in these trying times.
And then just when you start to feel it might all be a little overwhelming for a man who does not get overwhelmed, Ujrii finds a silver lining in all of it.
“It’s been a lot but it’s also been good to be able to go between phone calls to do my daughter’s homework with her or play with my son, you know, or spend time with the family,” he said.
And just like that he makes you feel a little bit better about our irregular lives during these pandemic days.
If you’re sitting at home unsure even what day it is, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.
“I’ve lost where the other world is,” Raptors president and CEO Masai Ujiri said when asked what he would be doing on April 1st in more normal times.
“I’m so into this (pandemic) world right now and trying to adjust,’ he said. “April 1? I think, I might be wrong, but this might be time when (Raptors director of player personnel and assisant GM) Dan Tolzman is dragging me to the McDonald’s game and the Hoop Summit might be coming up now.
“I think that these are the times when those (games) come up and we kind of start to round up our outside scouting,” Ujrii said. “It’s also a time we hit Europe, if I remember well. Final Four, we’re getting ready for the combine, those kind of things. Those are not there anymore.”
No everyone’s normal is a little off these day.
Ujiri was on the road scouting when the Raptors finished up a west-coast road trip in Utah against the Jazz and first official NBA positive test victim Rudy Gobert. Like his team, he came straight home and hasn’t left his house since, except to get tested as all the team did in those earliest of the pandemic days in North America.
His days now are one phone call after another after another. At this point the day of the week really is irrelevant.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020