Masai Ujiri believes Africa needs a successor to Nelson Mandela. Not just one though – a whole generation of young individuals who will propel the continent towards a future that’s waiting to be realized. In his time in the NBA, Ujiri has utilized every resource available to synthesize this dream.
Ujiri, President and General Manager of the Toronto Raptors, has a firm handle on the basketball world, his reach moving beyond North America; Ties to Nigeria, his country of birth, and the continent as a whole are strong and enduring. His immutable interest in improving facilities and opportunities for young basketball players throughout Africa is long-standing.
All of his work has culminated in numerous successes. The NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program is now a prominent fixture on the continent, hosting camps year round promoting the game while facilitating stable environments for education. He’s worked to convince the likes of Nike and Adidas to aid in funding programs and initiatives to help inspire the youth of the continent to continue to dream.
A thrilling documentary, Giants of Africa, chronicles Ujiri’s passion project. Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker Hubert Davis spent the better part of a summer following Ujiri and his selected coaching staff through intensive drills, agility tests and conditioning at camps held across five different countries.
Initially premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, the documentary is now in the midst of a limited release run in cinemas across North America.
Interestingly enough, Ujiri’s influence on the next generation is being felt much closer to home. Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo are shining examples of the dreams held by young basketball players in Africa looking to pursue their craft overseas.
Ibaka, currently with the Raptors, was born in Brazzaville, Congo and rose to prominence as a youth player with the national team. After a brief cameo in Spain, Ibaka was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder (then Seattle SuperSonics) and immediately became a hero back home in Congo.
His remarkable journey was captured in a documentary by Grantland:
Now entering his eighth season in the NBA, Ibaka has established himself as a renowned talent and committed philanthropist. Only recently, Ibaka was elected to the board of directors for the NBAPA foundation. A wing of the NBA’s player association, Ibaka along with fellow board members will help to fund and support charitable initiatives by the league’s players.
Inspire. Support. Teach. Work hard. Evolve. Help. Dare to dream. Our #goals. Inspirar. Apoyar. Enseñar. Trabajar duro. Evolucionar. Ayudar. Retar a soñar. Nuestros #objetivos. Inspirer. Soutien. Éduquer. Travailler dur. Évoluer. Aider. Défi pour rêver. Nos #objectifs. #Anythingispossible #Toutestpossible #Todoesposible
It’s tough when a player leaves a franchise for what’s perceived as financial reasons. In the case of Bismack Biyombo, Raptors fans collectively congratulated him on his mega deal with the Orlando Magic.
In an amazing piece over at The Undefeated, Biyombo goes in depth about the reality of his upbringing in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unable to afford to simple things like shoes or food, Biyombo spent the majority of his youth fighting for every little thing.
It’s why his commitment to rebuilding his hometown, Lubumbashi, and the entire DRC is so steadfast.
Vice Sports went along with Biyombo on his annual trip to the DRC this past summer. Biyombo has already built a basketball court at the University of Goma and a private school is nearing completion. His goal is to build a basketball court and private school in every major city across the DRC and to provide further funding for youth programs and learning initiatives in the country.
Most things in life work in cycles. In the case of Africa and the NBA, it started with Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo. Manute Bol made a brief but evocative appearance before handing the reins over to Luol Deng and Masai Ujiri. It’s now the time for the likes of Ibaka and Biyombo to shepherd the next generation to further acclaim.