Altercation Involving Masai Ujiri Leads to More than Just NBA Championship Press Coverage
A deputy suffered injuries, including a concussion, during an altercation with Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri. The deputy stopped Ujiri while he attempted to join his team on the court after clinching their NBA championship against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, California at Oracle Arena, causing a brief physical altercation. ESPN and the Associated Press reported that the 20-year-veteran of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office also suffered a broken jaw during the altercation. According to Yahoo Sports, the deputy hired a high-profile civil rights attorney to pursue a possible lawsuit.
The deputy claims that he is unable to work since the “unprovoked attack” occurred due to his injuries stemming from the altercation. A local news station, KPIX 5, also reported that body camera footage and security footage of the incident has led Sheriff Greg Ahern to “fully support” the deputy. The criminal case will be sent to the district attorney for separate criminal charges of misdemeanor battery of a police officer. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has not released the footage of the incident to the public because the videos are currently part of an ongoing investigation.
Videos captured by members of the media and public, as well as still photos, clearly show Ujiri holding his credentials in his hand and looking visibly shaken up by the altercation. This led to public questioning of why the officer seemed so intent on not allowing Ujiri on the court while possessing his credentials in his hand. Journalists and fans also cited on social media that he is a recognizable figure and the officer should have known that Ujiri had access to enter the court following the Raptors’ win. However, Sergeant Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s office claimed that the officer did not know who Ujiri was.
“You have to remember that during the NBA Finals, we have a lot of celebrities, VIPs and politicians show up at the game,” Sergeant Kelly stated. “We don’t know who is who. We’re not from Canada. We don’t follow the Raptors’ management team. There’s so many people trying to get on that court, and you’re talking about an event that has a lot of security details.”
Journalists at the game also criticized the perceived overly strict rules by authorities for possessing credentials to access various locations in the stadium throughout the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena; particularly credentials to enter the court after the game. ESPN analyst and former NBA champion Kendrick Perkins stated that, in his experience, the difference in hospitality between Scotiabank Arena in Toronto and Oracle Arena were “night and day.”
“We were told to strictly enforce the credentialing policy and not allow anyone onto the court without a credential, so our deputies were doing that,” said Sergeant Kelly. According to the Atlanta Black Star and USA Today, Sergeant Kelly also stated that the deputy decided to “take the high road” and not arrest Ujiri because doing so on national television would not have been in “anyone’s best interest.”
“We’re trying to take the high road here, be classy, handle this in a way that doesn’t take away from the victory,” Kelly said according to the Washington Post.
Although no videos of the entire altercation have surfaced, available videos show Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry pull Ujiri by his arm past security and onto the court to hug him in celebration. Ujiri has received widespread praise for his construction of the team’s championship roster. Many Raptors players showed their appreciation for Ujiri during the ensuing celebration on the court and in the locker room following the altercation.
Several bystanders intervened during the altercation. There were also many witnesses, including media members and fans. A witness told ESPN that the incident began when the deputy “put his hand on Ujiri’s chest and shoved him.” He claims that no words were exchanged between the two, although he remembers the officer shouting “[n]o one gets on the court without credentials.” The witness, who is a long-time Golden State Warriors season ticket holder, also told the Associated Press that he was sitting next to the deputy and that the police are not telling the truth and are “trying to cover up what the officer did.” He also claims that Ujiri never put his hands on the deputy. The witness specified his version of what occurred by telling USA Today that Ujiri “had his credentials by his side” and that the officer did not ask Ujiri for his credentials “at all” before shoving him.
Sheriff’s Sergeant Ray Kelly claims that Ujiri pushed the deputy and the deputy pushed him back before Ujiri “made a second, more significant shove and during that shove his arm struck our deputy in the side of the head.” He also confirmed the officer is on medical leave. However, immediately after the incident, Sergeant Kelly claimed that the deputy was uninjured, according to the Washington Post. Furthermore, when asked if the altercation could be considered a misunderstanding given the hectic circumstances of the championship celebration, Sergeant Kelly stated, “[w]e’re past the misunderstanding point. There were multiple opportunities to produce the credential. Everybody in the NBA knows the credentialing process.”
The Raptors and Masai Ujiri have both stated that they are fully cooperating with the investigation. Furthermore, the Raptors are gathering information of their own for an internal investigation of the incident. NBA spokesman Mike Bass also stated that the league is looking into the incident.
Due to the pressing nature of this matter, we will monitor the ongoing developments and provide updates as information breaks. The unique nature of the individuals and organizations involved will likely keep this matter high-profile in the athletics community at large.