What a season it has been for the Toronto Raptors.
Deemed as the underdogs coming up against two-time defending champions Golden State Warriors, the Raptors proved doubters and pundits wrong when they defeated the Bay Area team 114-110 to clinch their first ever NBA title with a deserving 4-2 series win on Thursday night sending the entire city into a frenzy.
With a sizeable African representation on the team, the entire series was also keenly followed on the continent and this remarkable achievement wouldn’t have been possible without the tactfulness and brilliance of their Nigerian president and the first African NBA Executive Masai Ujiri as well as the crucial contributions of roster players Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam.
Ujiri took a huge gamble last July when he traded the franchise’s best player at the time DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs. Though the move was questioned, the gamble paid off big time as Leonard was very instrumental both during the regular season and playoffs finishing as the Finals MVP averaging 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals in the series.
Though DeRozan was disappointed and felt betrayed, Ujiri was adamant the decision was a solely professional one.
“I understand sports, and sports is about winning, and I have a mandate to win,” Ujiri told reporters during a press conference about the trade, reports ESPN.
Adding the final jigsaws to the puzzle, Ujiri also brought in veteran Danny Green, who was involved in the Kawhi deal as well as seasoned player Marc Gasol in February. Alongside fan favorite Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and the other supporting cast, Ujiri’s vision became a reality.
Masai Ujiri is a true African with a big dream for the continent’s youth which he manifests through NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Africa programme and his Giants of Africa programme that uses basketball as a means to educate and enrich the lives of underprivileged African youth through camps.
A graduate of Ujiri’s Basketball Without Borders, Cameroonian Pascal Siakam was also very instrumental in their NBA finals finishing with 26 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. He also pulled off his best playoff performance in game 1 when he finished as the team’s top scorer with 32 points.
Born in Douala, 25-year-old Siakam’s journey to the NBA had its twists and turns as he was initially training to become a Catholic priest in his home country.
Congolese star Serge Ibaka was also vital coming off the bench to effectively contribute both offensively and defensively.
He finished off the final game with 15 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. One of his memorable performances during the series was coming off the bench to score 20 points in 22 minutes in game 4.