NBA commissioner Adam Silver has rendered an apology to Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri for comments he made in 2019 where he appeared to suggest the Nigerian executive was partly responsible for the altercation he had with a police officer after Game 6 of the NBA finals in Oakland that year.
In a recent interview with Sportsnet, Silver, who is also a lawyer by profession, admitted he shouldn’t have made those comments regarding the incident especially when the entire circumstances surrounding the confrontation hadn’t been fully presented.
“When I watch that last bit of the interview, in light of what we now know, I would love to take those words back,” he told the sports platform. “[Masai] and I at this point have probably talked about that night 100 times since then. He has my full and unequivocal support.
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“But I apologize to Masai for what I said in that interview…. Believe me, when I look at that now, I cringe when I watch it.”
Ujiri was accused of assault by Oakland police officer Alan Strickland after the two got into an altercation when the NBA executive was making his way to the court to join his players and other team members to celebrate the Raptors’ first-ever NBA championship in its franchise history. Strickland had initially declined Ujiri access to the court claiming that he did not show the proper credentials to be able to have access to the grounds. After trading words, a shoving match ensued but both parties were quickly separated. Ujiri was shortly allowed access to the court afterward.
In the aftermath of the incident, Strickland filed a lawsuit alleging Ujiri hit him in the face and chest with both fists during the altercation. Ujiri, however, maintained his innocence, claiming Strickland was rather the aggressor and pushed him first. Video evidence that was later released corroborated Ujiri’s claims. Strickland dropped his lawsuit last month while Ujiri also dropped a counter-suit he filed.
During the early stages of the investigation in 2019, Silver granted an interview where he appeared to imply Ujiri was in part responsible for the confrontation. “It’s part and parcel of what comes with someone who is living on the edge a bit and is hard-wired to sort of march forward with incredible energy,” Silver said in the interview in question. “Lessons learned for him – without assigning culpability or blame to anyone – as a leader, those are the kinds of situations he needs to learn to avoid.”
The comments from Silver also came before the release of the video. In hindsight, Silver admitted he shouldn’t have commented on the incident while investigations were still underway.
“I should have known better, as a lawyer, not to comment on a pending investigation, which was the case at the time,” he told Sportsnet. “Even as I watch myself in that interview, I can see myself searching for the appropriate words and now see that I clearly misspoke.”
Nevertheless, Ujiri said Silver’s comments did not have any effect on their relationship and they have both moved past it. “This hasn’t been an issue between us in the past and it isn’t now,” he told the news outlet. “We have talked about it; I know I have Adam’s support and he has mine.
“Let’s move forward from this and focus on what we can do to make positive change. And I know the fans have been supporting me through all this – I really appreciate their concern. It’s been unbelievable.”
During the interview, Silver also said he and Ujiri reflected on how things could have gone south had there not been witnesses and video evidence, adding that the incident has also taught him to check his “own built-in implicit biases around a particular situation.”
“It’s my responsibility, at least in terms of these kinds of incidences, that I put in place practices so something like what happened to Masai doesn’t happen to other Black executives in our arena or an any NBA event,” he also said.