Sports·Best of 2014

Masai Ujiri: Most influential in Canadian sports

Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri is our audience's pick for the most influential figure in Canadian sports in 2014.

Raptors GM is our audience's pick for 2014

Nigerian-born Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is the architect of one of the NBA's best teams, and a champion of the work of Nelson Mandela. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Masai Ujiri is our audience's pick for the most influential figure in Canadian sports in 2014.

The Toronto Raptors general manager won the final matchup against Olympic speed skater Gilmore Junio, earning 51 per cent of votes.

"[I feel] humbled, very, very humbled, I really appreciate it," Ujiri told CBC. "I think there's so many other people to look at in front of me but you know what, I'm humbled that this has happened."

Ujiri emerged from a list of eight finalists that were pitted against each other in a series of head-to-head matchups over the last few weeks, with the highest vote-getter advancing to the next round.

The other finalists were hockey players P.K. Subban and Marie-Philip Poulin, tennis star Eugenie Bouchard, bobsledder Kaillie Humphries, Own the Podium CEO Anne Merklinger, and social media.

Voters were asked to consider which candidate had the greatest impact on the Canadian sports landscape this year.

Ujiri is a native of Nigeria who became the first African-born GM of a major North American pro sports team before joining the Raptors in May 2013.

He bucked conventional wisdom this year by electing not to diminish his roster for a better shot at drafting Canadian phenom Andrew Wiggins. Instead, Ujiri kept the Raptors' key players together. They went on to win a surprise division title last season, and this season are one of the top teams in the NBA, along the way capturing the attention of fans in Canada’s largest city and throughout the country.

"I always try to do my best, not only for the team organization, the fans, the city, the country...it is a special circumstance here where it's one team and one country, one following, the only NBA team outside the U.S.A. and we're proud of it," said Ujiri.

Ujiri also hosted a benefit in honour of Nelson Mandela in June, and took part in the "Giants of Africa" celebration put on by the Raptors this month in recognition of the one-year anniversary of Mandela's death.

Junio set a fine example of sportsmanship and sacrifice by giving his spot in the Olympic men's 1,000-metre long track race to Denny Morrison, a more talented teammate who went on to capture the silver medal.

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