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TORONTO -- Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, born and raised in Nigeria before moving to the United States and becoming one of the most unique front-office success stories in professional sports history, responded strongly to President Donald Trump's reported disparaging remarks about immigration.
Multiple outlets have cited sources in reporting that Trump referred to Haiti and some African nations as "shithole countries" during a meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers this week. In a tweet on Friday morning, Trump denied using the specific term. Later in the day, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who was present at the meeting, said the president used the word.
"This summer, I went to Kigali and Nairobi and Lagos, and I went to Kampala and Abidjan and Dakar and Johannesburg, and I saw great cities and great people," Ujiri told ESPN on Friday. "And I went to visit the refugee camp in Dadaab, and I met good people and good families with plenty of hope. If those places are being referred to as shitholes, go visit those places, and go meet those people."
"I don't think it's fair, and I don't think it's what inspiring leadership can be. What sense of hope are we giving people if you are calling where they live -- and where they're from -- a shithole?
"I've spent a lot of time in the United States and Canada and I am grateful for the opportunities that I've been given by people, and the game of basketball, and the NBA. As leaders, I think we have to give people in many places a chance to have success, not continue to put those people down.
"We have to inspire people and give them a sense of hope. We need to bring people along, not ridicule and tear them down. This cannot be the message that we accept from the leader of the free world.
"... Just because someone lives in a hut, that doesn't mean that isn't a good person, that that person can't do better, that person isn't capable of being great. And just because it's a hut -- whatever that means -- doesn't mean it's not a home. God doesn't put anyone someplace permanently. I am a living testimony to that. If I grew up in a shithole, I am proud of my shithole."
Ujiri, 47, was hired by the Denver Nuggets as the first African-born general manager in NBA history in 2010, and voted the league's Executive of the Year for the 2012-13 season. After leaving Denver to oversee the Toronto franchise in 2013, he has elevated the Raptors into a consistent Eastern Conference contender.
Ujiri has engineered humanitarian efforts through his Giants of Africa basketball program and the NBA's Basketball Without Borders. Giants of Africa has raised and donated millions of dollars toward facilities, coaching and education of young basketball players throughout the African continent.