He was a key force behind the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship win. Now, team president Masai Ujiri has been enlisted to help Canada win a very different prize, one Prime Minister Justin Trudeau most certainly covets: a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Along with political staff, an ambassador and a cabinet minister, Ujiri was part of Trudeau’s first meeting during the trip — a sit-down with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Trudeau will be trying to meet with a host of leaders at the African Union meeting in Ethiopia to convince as many of the 54 member countries as possible to vote for Canada at the UN.
A smiling Ujiri told reporters today that Trudeau asked him to come on the trip. Ujiri said that even if he’s not especially political, he’s happy to lend a hand to Canada’s campaign for the Security Council seat.
“I support Canada and I support the prime minister in what he wants to do here,” Ujiri said. “Obviously, I have relationships with leaders here. Any way we can help, any way I can help — it’s a big part of making the world better.”
Ujiri grew up in Nigeria and has ties across the African continent through the work he does with his not-for-profit Giants of Africa, which focuses on empowering kids through basketball. He’s already been to the continent twice on his own this year.
“We live in a place that, I think, is an example around the world when I think of peace and when I think of diversity and opportunity for people around the world, and I think about how I can spread that to other countries here,” he said.
“It’s not necessarily politics for me. I think it’s more … how do we make the world a better place? And these leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, [have] my 100 per cent support.”
His mission at the African Union meeting goes well beyond the UN. Ujiri said he sees himself as an ambassador for sport, especially on the African continent. He said he believes that it can help young people and women express themselves and create job opportunities.
“We have to figure out on the continent how we give youth an opportunity through sports and I think Canada shows a good example, and maybe we can represent that here in some kind of way,” he said.
As Ujiri wrapped up with Canadian reporters, he was asked if he intended to stay in Canada. Recent rumours suggest he could be headed to the New York Knicks.
Ujiri channelled his inner politician for a moment, avoiding giving a direct answer to the question.
“Hey”, he said, laughing, “I’m always a Raptor. Always a Raptor.”