Masai Ujiri is the new general manager — technically Executive Vice President of Basketball operations — for the Denver Nuggets.
Which led a lot of people to say, “who?” But over at TrueHoop they have the story of how he went from a former European player crashing on couches and trying to get part-time gig anywhere in the league to a guy with one of the most coveted jobs in the NBA.
David Thorpe — the Executive Director of the Pro Training Center, ESPN writer and just generally one of the good guys — helped Ujiri get his start.
It sounded like he had a good feel for where the good international players were playing. From Africa, and all over Europe. He knew all kinds of players, it seemed, who could help U.S. high school or college programs. I wasn’t even thinking about the pros at that point.
I told him it was a few weeks until the Final Four in Atlanta. I wasn’t sure I had room for him to stay with me, but if he could get there I would meet him there and introduce him to everyone I could… We went to dinner with [Florida State coaches] Leonard Hamilton and Stan Jones. Within minutes he and Leonard Hamilton were good friends. We met all kinds of people all weekend. You know how people talk about videos spreading virally on the Internet? Masai spread virally that weekend. By the time Sunday rolled around, he had meetings set up with all kinds of coaches. People I had never met. Everyone wanted him to help them find good players at every level.
Masai kept working, kept bringing good players in from places people hadn’t been, and kept meeting people and shaking hands. He kept working hard. It took a couple years of doing that for nothing before the Magic hired him as an overseas scout. And kept working and sleeping on couches.
NBA scouts kind of do one of two things. They either go by themselves and work alone, or go where everybody else is and meet all the other scouts and basketball people. Masai did the latter. He met everybody. He became friends with everybody. After a couple of years, Denver came calling [and made him a scout]. Then he got a real job. No more staying with friends. That was the last time I ever helped him get a job. By the time Toronto wanted to hire him, he was far beyond needing my help.
Go read the whole post. It makes you appreciate how hard Ujiri worked to get where he is. We talked about how Josh Kroenke — the soon-to-be owner with a basketball background — will have the real power with the Nuggets. But that shouldn’t get in the way of the Ujiri story. The NBA could use more of that.