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Ujiri’s awareness of his own position is not a small point. He makes a lot of money, is one of the most highly regarded executives in the NBA, and has palled around with former presidents and current prime ministers. And when he was about to take the court for a trophy presentation, he came across someone whose first instinct was to shove him, and later sued him over the encounter.
It made him realize that the truth doesn’t always win out in these encounters.
“I watch all these movies, I watch all these documentaries, and I’m thinking, ‘man, why don’t you just say what happened? Just say exactly what happened and you’ll be fine.’”
Then something happened to him. “And I began to question myself, I began to doubt myself.” You start to wonder, he said, if your own memories could be trusted.
I’m able to face this square-on.I just started to think about the people who cannot
Those issues would come up again not long after Ujiri’s story became headline news, with the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, and the protests that it touched off. The Raptors and the Boston Celtics, then preparing to begin a second-round playoff series, were the first teams to publicly float the idea of sitting out games to press for change.
“We talked about everything that was going on,” says Ujiri. The players had arrived hoping to spread a message about racial injustice, and then it was all happening again. “These are things that piled on, and you could tell there was a mental drain on these players,” he said. It was time for a pause, even a brief one. He said he was proud that the league had agreed to certain initiatives — money for anti-racism messaging, a voter-registration drive — before play resumed.