Raptors team president Masai Ujiri said Thursday that video footage of him being treated "horribly" by a sheriff's deputy in California at the end of last year's NBA Finals reminded him that people feel they don't have to treat him with respect because of his skin color.
Ujiri added that despite his achievements in basketball, including building a championship team, "there are some people, including those who are supposed to protect us, who will always and only see me as something that is unworthy of respectful engagement.
"And, there's only one indisputable reason why that is the case — because I am Black."
A statement from our president Masai Ujiri. pic.twitter.com/ykekTq53XM— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 20, 2020
Ujiri made his statement through the Raptors the same week his legal team released bodycam footage showing the deputy, Alan Strickland, shoving Ujiri twice and not allowing him onto the court to join in the Raptors' celebration after Toronto had defeated Golden State in Game 6 of The Finals. The Alameda County Sheriff's Office later alleged that Ujiri was the aggressor and assaulted Strickland. It also claimed Ujiri did not have floor-access credentials.
The Alameda County District Attorney's Office investigated the allegation but decided last October not to charge Ujiri. Strickland sued Ujiri in February, claiming assault, battery and emotional distress. He is seeking $75,000 in damages. Ujiri countersued, claiming Strickland made false statements in his report of the incident. He is seeking nominal damages. The video released this week was part of the counterclaim.
"What saddens me the most about this ordeal is that the only reason I am getting the justice I deserve in this moment is because of my success," Ujiri said Thursday. "Because I'm the president of an NBA team, I had access to resources that ensured I could demand and fight for my justice. So many of my brothers and sisters haven't had, don't have, and won't have the same access to resources that assured my justice. And that's why Black Lives Matter."
The Alameda sheriff's office said Wednesday that the bodycam footage does not prove Strickland started the incident.
"We 100 percent stand by [the] original statement that was released that Mr. Ujiri is the aggressor in this incident," the department told CP24. "Don't be quick to judge based off of what lawyers are saying."
The sheriff's office said in June 2019 that it had photographic evidence of Ujiri striking Strickland. It showed the photos to the (Toronto) Globe and Mail but not did allow them to be published.
"[We wanted] to show that a crime did occur when people are saying that . . . there was no strike to the face [by Ujiri against Strickland], when in fact there was," spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. "We've done it in a way that can still let the investigation take place without contaminating the witness pool."