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‘Keep demanding justice’: Masai Ujiri says anti-Black racism behind shoving incident at NBA Finals

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WATCH ABOVE: Video released by lawyers for Masai Ujiri appears to show a sheriff’s deputy shoving the executive twice in the moments following the team’s 2019 NBA Finals win in Oakland, Calif. (Aug. 19) – Aug 19, 2020

Two days after videos were released by lawyers for Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri in relation to a shoving incident involving a sheriff’s deputy at the 2019 NBA Finals win, the executive is speaking out and says anti-Black racism was the reason.

“The video sadly demonstrates how horribly I was treated by a law enforcement officer last year in the midst of my team, the Toronto Raptors, winning its first world championship,” he said in a statement released on Thursday by Cotchett Pitre and McCarthy LLP, the law firm representing Ujiri in U.S. federal court.

“Unfortunately, I was reminded in that moment that despite all of my hard work and success, 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.

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“There’s only one indisputable reason why that is the case — because I am Black.”

Ujiri said he and his family are grateful for the supporters who “expressed disappointment and concern” after the release of the videos while also reflecting on how important the 2019 NBA Finals win was for him, the team and the team’s fans.

He said he was “sadden[ed]” that he was only seeing justice because of his personal success.

“Because I’m the president of a 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,” Ujiri said.

Read more: Body-worn camera video appears to show sheriff’s deputy shoving Masai Ujiri after NBA Finals win

“That’s why Black Lives Matter and that’s why it’s important for all of us to keep demanding justice: Justice for George (Floyd), justice for Breonna (Taylor), justice for Elijah (McClain), justice for far too many Black lives that mattered, and justice for Black people around the world who need our voice and our compassion to save their lives.”

The Miami Heat NBA team issued a message of support on Twitter Thursday afternoon.

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“We’re with you, Masai. And they still wonder why we put #BlackLivesMatter on our courts,” the tweet said.

Ujiri’s lawyers released the footage late Tuesday as part of a response to a lawsuit filed by Alan Strickland, an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy working as a security guard at Oracle Arena during Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors on June 13, 2019, against Ujiri, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and the NBA.

In the firm’s 108-page response, lawyers cited an 11-second video captured by Strickland’s body-worn camera.

“The entire incident was caught on camera. The video footage shows Mr. Strickland was undeniably the initial aggressor,” the court filing states.

Ujiri went onto the court to join his celebrating team when Strickland stopped him because the Raptors executive didn’t provide the proper on-court credential, leading to a shoving match. Prosecutors decided in October 2019 not to press criminal charges against Ujiri.

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Strickland alleged in a lawsuit filed in February that he suffered injuries “which caused and continue to cause great mental, physical, emotional and psychological pain and suffering” after the incident. He and his wife, Kelly Strickland, are seeking US$75,000 in general damages as well as other compensation including punitive damages, lost wages, current and future medical expenses and legal costs.

Ujiri filed a counterclaim seeking nominal and punitive damages as well as reimbursement for legal expenses.

“Only after being unjustifiably told to ‘back the f— up’ and shoved twice did Mr. Ujiri show any response and return a shove to Mr. Strickland’s chest,” the court filing said.

“Mr. Ujiri’s defensive response was a reasonable and justified reaction to Mr. Strickland’s use of unnecessary and excessive force.”

Read more: (Feb. 10, 2020) Toronto Raptors’ Masai Ujiri sued by Oakland deputy over shoving match

Up until the most recent disclosure, only part of the incident was captured on video and subsequently shared on social media.

Global News contacted lawyers for Strickland to ask for comment on Ujiri’s statement, but a response wasn’t received by the time of publication.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office initially backed Strickland’s assertion that Ujiri was the aggressor. On Wednesday, Sgt. Ray Kelly briefly spoke with Global News. He claimed the video released by Ujiri’s lawyers doesn’t tell the full story and that there are multiple sides. Kelly said people shouldn’t rush to judgment, adding the matter still needs to be considered by the court.

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The case is still before the court and none of the allegations have been proven.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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