TORONTO - In his first statement since a video came to light showing that an Alameda County sheriff's deputy was clearly the initial aggressor in trying to block him from going on the court to congratulate his victorious team, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri said that the disrespect he was shown that night was based purely on the color of his skin.
"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," Ujiri wrote in a statement posted on the Raptors website. "It was an exhilarating moment of achievement for our organization, for our players, for our city, for our country, and for me personally, given my long-tenured professional journey in the NBA."
He continued: "Yet, 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. And, there’s only one indisputable reason why that is the case - because I am Black."
KTVU first published the video Tuesday night, showing Deputy Alan Strickland shoved Ujiri twice on June 13, 2019, after the Raptors beat the Warriors in the NBA Finals because he didn't see him wearing the proper credentials. Ujiri shoved back once, telling him who he was.
The deputy didn't leave it there.
Based on his narrative of the story, where he said Ujiri struck him with "double fists," the Alameda County Sheriff's Office recommended charges be filed against Ujiri and Strickland filed a federal lawsuit against him, alleging assault and battery. Strickland said he suffered extensive physical and emotional injuries and has not been back to work in more than a year. He has accrued at least $142,000 in workers' compensation claims since then.
The District Attorney's Office declined to file any charges Ujri.
However, since the video has been made public, there has also been no announcement as to what, if anything, will happen to Strickland now that there is no visual evidence that what he said was not true.
In an email to KTVU earlier this week, Sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly wrote: "A snippet of video was released by attorneys. It does not depict the entire incident in detail. There are different angles and high definition images that tell the complete story. There seems to be a rush to judgment before all the facts are in. This matter needs to be resolved before the court with facts and evidence. Not in the media."
Strickland and his attorney, David Mastagni, have repeatedly refused comment.
Alan Strickland says he had facial swelling after he was shoved by Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri. This is his photo from the hospital.
The video clip from Strickland's body camera, as well as from a camera inside Oakland's Oracle Arena, showed Ujiri did nothing more than push the deputy once in the chest during a heated, albeit brief, exchange. Ujiri's push came after he was shoved twice by the deputy.
Strickland said that he didn't see Ujiri's yellow armband, which he supposedly had to wear to get on the court. But Ujiri's legal team argued he had an all-access badge, which can be seen in the video. Ujiri is tucking it into his breast pocket, lanyards out, when Strickland shoves him and tells him to "back the f--k up."
Ujiri also said the only reason he was able to be vindicated was that he had the means to fight back.
He hired the law firm of Cotchett Pitre & Mccarthy in Burlingame, Calif. to defend him and lawyers there were able to obtain the video proof of the shoving incident as part of the discovery process in response to Strickland's federal suit.
"What saddens me most about this ordeal is that the only reason why I am getting the justice I deserve in this moment is because of my success," Ujiri wrote. "Because I’m the President of an 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. And that’s why Black Lives Matter."
Ujiri said what happened to him should not be seen in a vacuum and that the public needs to keep rallying for Black rights, whether the people are fancy executives or not.
"And that’s why it’s important for all of us to keep demanding justice," Ujri said. "Justice for George. Justice for Breonna. Justice for Elijah. 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."