Raptors’ Masai Ujiri defends Pascal Siakam amid criticism, racist attacks

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There’s no doubt that Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam underperformed in the playoffs, especially against the Boston Celtics where he averaged less than 15 points on under 40 percent shooting from the field. It was one of the main reasons why Toronto lost the series in seven games.

However, in some extreme instances, the criticism around Siakam went way too far. Racist petitions were created which spewed outright hatred towards Siakam, and it was so serious that Raptors president Masai Ujiri took the time to address those comments in his season-ending press conference on Thursday.

“We see what is going on with Pascal. We know of his struggles in the bubble and he will get through that and we’re very confident with that,” Ujiri told reporters. “The fans and people have every right to their opinions and to make judgements on our team, but I feel that to take it that far to where it went, there is racism everywhere.”

The Raptors have thrown their full unwavering support behind the Black Lives Matter movement and have made every effort to use their platform and resources towards combating systematic racism. In last year’s Finals, Ujiri was the subject of racial profiling as an Oakland police officer shoved him as he tried to join his team in the championship celebration. Led by Ujiri, along with point guard Kyle Lowry, the Raptors have been at the forefront of affecting change.

“Let’s not make any mistakes there is racism in Canada, here. We know there is a focus on the United States but this is a global pandemic, this is something we are facing everywhere, and as an organization we are going to face it square on,” Ujiri said.

As for Siakam’s struggles, those are a mystery to Ujiri as they were for everyone who watched the All-Star forward in that series. Ujiri clearly believes in Siakam, who he selected 27th overall in 2016 and signed to a maximum extension following his Most Improved Player campaign a season ago. But Ujiri admitted to the obvious in the press conference — Siakam just wasn’t the same inside the NBA’s Disney bubble.

Orlando, FL – SEPTEMBER 9: Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors hi-fives his teammates during the game against the Boston Celtics during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on September 9, 2020 in Orlando, Florida at The Field House. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

“We tried to understand what he went through, and we talked extensively. Honestly, it wasn’t even just me. Kyle, Fred (VanVleet), those guys all did an incredible job. Coach Nick Nurse, Bobby (Webster), everybody stood by Pascal,” Ujiri said. “There’s something about that bubble that brought all of us together, and that was truly unique to me. For us, finding out the struggles that he had with going through the COVID period, and being confined to a space, and where he was with his rhythm and trying to get back into it,” Ujiri said.

“I know Pascal, we all know Pascal, sometimes we need this almost like a kick in the butt, some kind of adversity, and he’s going to bounce back 100 percent from this. He acknowledged it, you guys saw it, he felt like he let the team down, and we feel that we would just stay by him, stick with him as always,” he added.

Whatever is the case, the Raptors are confident that Siakam will regain his confidence. Siakam was named to the All-NBA Second Team this week in recognition of the success he had prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, and while it’s clear that Siakam still needs more development and refinement to produce at the highest levels, there is a definitive track record for success. If nothing else, Siakam has shown to be an incredible worker, he improves every season, and with a long offseason ahead of him, the Raptors are expecting yet another jump.

“Let’s not forget now about how Pascal helped us win a championship. Pascal has shown every bit of being courageous, being a fighter, being a competitor, and being a winner. He’s shown every bit of that, and we value that, we see that, we know him as a person, so he’s going to bounce back through this and we support him in any way that we can,” Ujiri said.

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