The Toronto Raptors met as a team Tuesday to view new video footage showing team president Masai Ujiri's altercation with a San Francisco-area sheriff's deputy in the moments after the team won last year's NBA Finals.
The footage, which was included in a countersuit filed by Ujiri on Tuesday, shows the deputy, Alan Strickland, grabbing Ujiri, shoving him and telling him to "back the f--- up" as Ujiri attempts to get on the court to celebrate Toronto's title-clinching victory at Oracle Arena. It also shows that Ujiri "did not respond aggressively" toward Strickland, according to the countersuit.
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said he spoke with Ujiri about the encounter and stressed that the entire Raptors franchise has been behind Ujiri from the start.
VanVleet said the altercation underscores why players throughout the NBA have been fighting for social justice since they've been in Orlando, Florida.
"It's heavy stuff," VanVleet said Wednesday after the team's 104-99 Game 2 win over the Brooklyn Nets. "Obviously we're all privileged, and Masai's pretty privileged in his world, and you just stop and think about how good we got it because there's people who are gonna be in that same situation walking down the street who don't have money to fight the case, who don't have 20,000 people in the stands and don't have the abilities to countersue. How many times do cops do things like that without the body cam on, without arena footage? It's a tough situation.
"It's just crazy to see how things work. It's unfortunate, and I think that's why we all are in the situation now and fighting for social justice and equality because you see how quick things can get ugly just by somebody's word or one bad cop or a bunch of bad cops -- or the system is kind of crooked, and it's not designed for us."
Raptors guard Norman Powell said Ujiri's altercation with the deputy "speaks to what's going on now." He said he is glad there is body camera footage to corroborate Ujiri's story.
"I'm glad we were able to get to the real bottom line, and everyone can see what really happened," Powell said following the Raptors' win Wednesday. "It's exactly what we're fighting for: for justice to be served for those cops who are taking the law a little bit into their own hands unnecessarily. We saw it as a team. We're very open and passionate about social justice.
"I'm just really glad that the video came out, and everyone saw it, and Masai is able to clear his name and what people were saying about him and the whole way things went down. It's exactly what we were fighting for. We're going to continue to take that fight to [get rid of] the bad apples in the police force."
Strickland's lawsuit, which was filed in February, alleged that Ujiri assaulted him and that as a result of the incident, he "suffered injury to his body, health, strength, activity and person, all of which have caused and continue to cause Plaintiff great mental, emotional, psychological, physical, and nervous pain and suffering."
Ujiri's countersuit, which includes the Raptors, the NBA and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment as plaintiffs, says that Strickland falsified the encounter and attempted to portray Ujiri as "the initial aggressor and an inherently violent individual." It calls Strickland's account "a complete fabrication" that has been contradicted by video footage.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse, speaking before Wednesday's game, called the incident "disappointing" and said that it ruined what should have been a night of pure celebration for Ujiri.
"Well, I think that in this particular case -- well, not just this particular case, but many instances -- people make accusations, assumptions, throw the guilty thing at lots of people," Nurse said. "I think in the world, especially of social media and all this kind stuff, there's a lot of just flat-out unkind behavior toward people when they don't really know the truth, and I find it all really disheartening and disappointing, to be honest."