A 35 million Canadians celebrated a historic win by the Toronto Raptors, the new NBA champions, the African influence on the team loomed larger than life.
#1. Masai Ujiri
The team is led by Masai Ujiri whose father is Nigerian. Ujiri’s mom-Grace, is a Kenyan from the Akamba tribe.
As the president of basketball operations, Ujiri was heavily criticized last season for trading one of his star players DeMar Derozan in a deal that brought in Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi only had one year left in his contract and fans queried why Ujiri would take such a gamble in trading the team’s best player in return for a star player who might be in Toronto for only a year.
When he spent time with president Barack Obama opening a court in Kenya, Ujiri says he watched Obama closely and tried to learn from him. The way Obama makes people feel special, whether there are five or 25 people in the room; the way he comes out from his office to greet people. Leadership. Details. Little things. How you can change the world, little bit by little bit.
He also employs a New York-based leadership consultant that he talks to three times a week, for up to an hour, and she tries to expand his thinking, to sharpen his goals and his habits.
Masai will always be seen donning a bracelet with the Kenyan flag. “I got this from the Samburu girls” he notes.
#2. Pascal Siakam
Pascal Siakam is originally from Douala, Cameroon. After graduating from the seminary in 2012, he attended a Luc Mbah a Moute Basketball Camp in Cameroon where he showed off his raw basketball talent. And he left a mark, because the following year he was invited to a Basketball Without Borders camp. In an interview with Players Tribune, he notes:
“I played well enough at the camp to catch the eye of a few coaches of American prep schools. One of the coaches was from a school called God’s Academy. He talked about a place called Lewisville, Texas, which sounded like another world. It was exciting to be recruited for anything, but since I barely spoke any English and had never left Africa before, I had a lot of questions. My dad was more than happy to help. He learned as much as possible about God’s Academy, and even though it was far away from home, he encouraged me to go play basketball there and pursue a new adventure.”
Pascal’s father died in a 2014 car accident while he was in college at New Mexico State. Pascal’s sister, Raissa, called him to tell him his father was involved in a two-car accident and died. Tchamo was taken to the hospital but died four days later of internal injuries, per ESPN. Now, Pascal plays for a purpose bigger than himself.
The Raptors drafted him with their 27th pick in the 2016 NBA draft.
#3. Serge Ibaka.
Serge Ibaka was impressive in the finals, including a career high 6 blocks in game 4.
Both his mother and his father were basketball players. His father played at the Republic of Congo and with the Congolese national team, and his mother played for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ibaka speaks 4 languages: Lingala, French, English, and Spanish
In the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, Ibaka and Spaniard Marc Gasol had the primary duty of defending big man Joel Embiid. To ensure Embiid was not privy to their defensive strategies, Ibaka would speak to Gasol in Spanish.