Basketball at TIFF


Raptors’ GM Masai Ujiri Gets the Spotlight in New Documentary

With the Olympics and NBA Summer League in the books and the start of training camps still a few weeks away, this time of year can be a bit of a slog for hoops fans craving entertainment. Luckily, this year, the Toronto International Film Festival has you covered.

In his latest project, Academy Award-nominated director Hubert Davis has set his sights on Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri. Most Torontonians will probably just remember Ujiri as the bold hype man who famously proclaimed “Fuck Brooklyn” and “We don’t give a shit about [Paul Pierce’s comments]” at playoff rallies, but those soundbites are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what makes Ujiri a notable figure.

Giants of Africa is a tribute to the trailblazing that Ujiri has done for people in Africa with basketball aspirations. Not only has Ujiri given them hope by becoming the first-ever African-born GM of a major North American pro sports team—and a damn good one at that—he continues to give back to his home continent with grassroots efforts there. Those efforts began 13 years ago with a single basketball camp in Nigeria, an initiative that has since expanded into the current Giants of Africa program which now has camps also taking place in Ghana, Kenya, and Rwanda.

Ujiri, a former college basketball player and direct beneficiary of organized basketball camps, is now the one bringing young, promising players together and giving them the infrastructure they need to achieve the kind of success that he and current NBA players like Luol Deng, Serge Ibaka, and Bismack Biyombo have all experienced. And Ujiri is right there on the court with many of them, motivating them as best he can.“This game will take you places. It will take you places you have never been,” Ujiri tells a group of young players in the official Ghosts of Africa trailer. “There’s a reason you guys were chosen to be here. You guys have to find a way.”

Finding a way is exactly what Ujiri did when he overcame the odds to make it overseas, climbed the rungs of NBA front offices, and miraculously wrangled a first round pick out of the Knicks for Andrea Bargnani. Now, he’s found a way to empower a new generation of African basketball players. It’s an inspirational story that should be well worth the price of admission. You can check out screenings at 6 pm this Friday at the Ryerson Theatre, 6 pm this Saturday at the Scotiabank Theatre, and 12:45 pm this Sunday at the Scotiabank Theatre.

For those who might also want to appreciate a lighter aspect of the game, TIFF is also screening Mascots, a Christopher Guest blockbuster that audiences can get a sneak peek of before it arrives on Netflix later this fall. It’s a comedic look at the high stakes world of competitive mascoting, with an all-star cast featuring the likes of Jennifer Coolidge, Parker Posey, Zach Woods, Jane Lynch, and Fred Willard.

Even though Mascots is coming to TIFF, Guest sadly did not get The Raptor in for a cameo. It’s playing at 1:15 pm this Wednesday at the Scotiabank Theatre and at 9:15 pm this Saturday at the Ryerson Theatre.


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