Masai Ujiri’s money is on Adam Silver — and then the Raptors

Masai Ujiri is not sure what NBA commissioner Adam Silver will come up with to allow the suspended season to be resurrected, but he is confident in Silver’s ability to make a resumption possible in some form.

And the Raptors president wants that more than anything, to satisfy his greatest craving and biggest desire.

Competing. And winning.

In a wide-ranging interview with Ernie Johnson of Turner Sports, broadcast on the league’s Twitter feed Monday night, Ujiri provided a glimpse into the one thing that drives him more than anything else in his role as Toronto’s top executive.

“We can say all we want (but) sports is about winning,” he said in the 35-minute conversation. “We play sports to win.”

There are other aspects, of course: social responsibility, being good citizens of the world, lifting up and inspiring the less fortunate, advancing important social causes. All important in the grand scheme of things and not to be diminished, but the essence of sports is that one team beats another, and that’s what Ujiri misses.

“We bring people together … we try to make the world a better place and showcase what these athletes do, and what the NBA does as a whole, but sports is about competing,” he said. “It’s about winning, and we have guys that want to compete and want to win.”

When he will get that chance again is impossible to tell. There’s no immediate relief in sight amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic, and sports is very much in the background of a larger global health crisis.

But Ujiri has seen Silver lead, supported every hard decision the commissioner has made since the March 11 suspension of play, and knows Silver will take the counsel of as many experts as possible before any plan to resume the season can be hatched. Ujiri feels confident that Silver will make the right call at precisely the right time, just like he did in shutting the league down after the first positive coronavirus test of a player.

“He had the foresight and he had the vision. It’s not only him starting this for the league, for other leagues (to follow),” the Raptors president told Johnson. “It opened up the whole can in this world. It opened it up clearly, and that’s leadership.

“I know with all the input … and how he directs, he’ll come up with something great. He’s taking all our input and I am confident that we will come back playing in some kind of way.

“We miss the game. We miss sports.”

Ujiri has spent the last month the way so many have: a constant stream of conference calls and video conferences. He has been checking in with players, coaches and staff while also handling myriad duties on various NBA committees. It has given him a chance to connect more closely with more people than usual at a time when the NBA playoffs would normally be starting on the weekend.

“Maybe we needed this to really interact in some kind of way where we are really checking up on each other,” he said. “We’re checking up on people’s families, how they are doing, (their) health, and it’s constant.”

But it’s not competing and not winning, and not defending the NBA crown the Raptors wear. He can’t wait for that day to come.

“Honestly, from the inside you try to keep your mouth shut,” he said. “You know how we are in the NBA. It’s karma, and you just want to keep going (quietly).

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“The team has great courage and they fight. Yes, there’s something to prove almost to the whole world, but we’re at a stage where we take pride in defending the title.”

All they need is the chance.

Doug Smith