Masai Ujiri, Raptors GM, could pay price for f-bomb
Masai Ujiri quickly apologizes for comments
As playoff basketball finally returned to Toronto, Raptors fans got a good look at general manager Masai Ujiri on Saturday.
Behind the soft fabric of the expensive suit is a sandpaper-like lining.
Ujiri found himself briefly in the limelight Saturday after insulting Brooklyn before an outdoor gathering of fans in advance of Toronto's NBA playoff game against the Nets. He apologized in a brief meeting with the media at halftime.
Brooklyn had the last laugh, hanging on for a 94-87 victory in Game 1 of the first-round best-of-seven series.
Emotions ran high as the Raptors returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and Ujiri helped stoke the pre-game fire.
Ujiri, a former NBA executive of the year in Denver, took the stage before the afternoon game to address pumped-up fans under bright sunshine at Maple Leafs Square. The moment seemed to get to him as he paired an F-bomb and Brooklyn on his way off the stage.
The crowd loved it, roaring in response. He handed the microphone to his boss, MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke, who smiled and shook his head before leaving the stage.
Video of the trash talk quickly surfaced on Twitter and other social media.
Toronto coach Dwane Casey was anything but offended.
"That's Masai," he said when asked after the game about the incident. "That's why our team plays like that. He's a fiery guy and that should represent how we feel."
"He's a very passionate guy," echoed Toronto guard Lyle Lowry. "He believes in what we have and what we're doing. That's what he is, he's a very passionate and emotional guy."
The GM was quick to do damage control, with team officials summoning media for a halftime gathering in the hall outside the playoff media centre at the Air Canada Centre.
"I apologize. Wrong choice of words out there," Ujiri told some three dozen media. "This thing is really not about me, it's about the players and the playoffs. So just trying to get the crowd out there rattled. Wrong choice of words.
"I apologize to kids out there and to the Brooklyn guys. Nothing against them. Just trying to get our fans going. That's it."
He declined to take questions. But he offered an addendum, over his shoulder, as he headed down the corridor.
"You know how I feel," he said. "I don't like them (the Nets) but I apologize."
Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd had little to say on the matter.
"I don't even know who the (Toronto) GM is," he said.
When told minutes later what Ujiri had said, Kidd was still unwilling to bite.
"I could care less what they think about Brooklyn," he said. "We have a job to do and that's to play a game of basketball."
Veteran Nets star Kevin Garnett was also unfazed by Ujiri's comment.
"It's all good. It is motivation," he said. "Keep rooting for the Raptors, keep rooting for the home team. It is what it is."
Adding to the drama of the day, the shot clocks stopped working — prompting a break — in the third quarter. The shot clock was subsequently counted down by longtime PA announcer Herbie Kuhn as he looked at the stopwatch held by the official next to him. Kuhn likely needed a post-game throat lozenge.
The soldout crowd of 19,800 was loud and proud inside the building and out. Those inside sported giveaway white T-shirts with the words Northern Uprising around a Raptors logo on them.
Drake, hip-hop star and Raptors global ambassador, sported one of the shirts under his jacket in his normal courtside perch. He was heavily involved in the Raptors rebrand, built around the slogan "We The North."
Ujiri was feisty prior to the series, after talk the Nets may have slipped down the standings in order to face the Raptors.
The Toronto GM said his team "haven't lost one second of sleep worrying about the Brooklyn Nets."
"They can do whatever they want," Ujiri said Thursday. "We'll be right here."
The Toronto Sun tabloid helped stir the pot with a Page 1 headline that said "Raptors vs. Dinosaurs," in a shot at Brooklyn's aging stars.
Game 2 is Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre.
Toronto (48-34) and Brooklyn (44-38) split four meetings during the regular season.