Masai Ujiri, the first African-born general manager of a major American sports team, recently accepted the NBA Executive of the Year award.
The NBA Executive of the Year is not just an award, “but the rare NBA honor that is actually voted on by colleagues and front office peers,” according to Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo Sports.
Nigerian-born Ujiri, named to his current position as general manager of the Denver Nuggets in August 2010, came to the Nuggets after three years with the Toronto Raptors.
In this story about the NBA award presented to Ujiri, he “was instrumental in assembling a balanced roster that featured nine players averaging between 8.0 and 16.7 points and a bench that ranked second overall in scoring (41.3 ppg). Of the seven teams that won at least 50 games, Denver was the only one without an All-Star selection.”
He was born in England but moved back to Nigeria at 2, Ujiri told Vic Lombardi of CBS 4 Denver on February 26.
Though he played basketball in college in the U.S. and also in his native Zaria, Nigeria, Ujiri says he now only occasionally shoots around; he reads a lot, loves to travel, and likes to go to movies with his wife, according to the CBS interview.
In the interview, months before he was recognized with the NBA award, Ujiri downplayed the publicity and expectations about his accomplishments as the Denver Nuggets GM. He told Lombardi he doesn’t know if his story is impressive as an African until he does something to prove himself.
“It will be impressive when you win a championship,” he said in the interview.
As GM for the Nuggets, Ujiri took a pass on the mid-season trade deadline and chose to wait until the summer to make a decision about possible trades and a much-needed shooter for the team.
The drafts, a time when teams take turns selecting players, occurs on June 27. Ujiri’s decision to wait prompted Lombardi to attest to his honesty, saying, “you know why those of us in the media like you? Because you are brutally honest. You speak the truth.”
Ujiri said patience is key for the Nuggets to grow and become a contending team for the NBA title.
“When you want to make the team good quickly, for your organization, the owners, the fans, the players, you have to be patient, I think,” he said.