The son of a doctor mother and a hospital administrator/nursing educationist father, Ujiri originally played soccer as a youth before focusing on basketball. His interest with basketball started as a 13-year old playing with friends on outdoor basketball courts in northern Nigeria. This interest would be fed by American sports magazines and VHS tapes of NBA games or basketball movies. He admired Hakeem Olajuwon, an NBA star who was born in Nigeria.
Ujiri grew to be 6-foot-4 and emigrated to the United States to play two years of basketball at Bismarck State College, then transferred to Montana State University-Billings, though he left the latter school after one semester. He spent six years playing professionally in Europe. After ending a professional playing career in 2002, Ujiri worked as a youth coach in Nigeria. During an NBA summer league game in Boston, he met David Thorpe, who eventually introduced him to college coaches. In 2002, Ujiri was accompanying a young Nigerian player to a draft tryout in Orlando when he impressed Magic scouting director Gary Brokaw, who then introduced Ujiri to coach Doc Rivers and GM John Gabriel. Ujiri then became an unpaid scout for the NBA's Orlando Magic, paying his own way when he had to and sharing rooms with scouts or players when he could.
Jeff Weltman, then a young Nuggets executive, introduced Ujiri to Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe, who then hired Ujiri on salary as an international scout. After four seasons there, he was hired away by Bryan Colangelo of the Toronto Raptors as their Director of Global Scouting. Ujiri became the Raptors' assistant general manager in 2008, and returned to the Nuggets in 2010, when he accepted his position as executive vice president in charge of basketball operations. He became the first African-born general manager for an American major league sports team. In 2013, he was named the NBA Executive of the Year, the only non-American to ever win the award. On May 31, 2013, Ujiri signed a 5 year, 15 million dollar deal to become GM of the Toronto Raptors.
Ujiri has also been the director of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders Africa program, which promotes basketball throughout the continent. He also conducts two camps, one for the top 50 players of Nigeria, which is sponsored by Nestle Milo, and another for African big men, which Ujiri sponsors himself with help from Nike.
- Woody Paige. "Ujiri in Nuggets' jungle". Denver Post. August 28, 2010. Retrieved on October 14, 2010.
- Ian Harrison. "Masai Ujiri takes reins in Denver". Sports Magazine. September 3, 2010. Retrieved on October 14, 2010.
- "Masai Ujiri, a Nigerian, is Denver Nuggets new Executive VP". Nigerian Inquirer. 2010. Retrieved on October 14, 2010.
- "Nuggets hire Masai Ujiri as new GM". Associated Press. ESPN. August 31, 2010. Retrieved on October 14, 2010.
- Nuggets' Ujiri collects Executive of the Year honors
- Masai Ujiri joining Raptors
- Royce Young. "Denver hires Masai Ujiri as GM, but who is he?" CBS Sports. August 26, 2010. Retrieved on October 14, 2010.
|Current heads of basketball operations in the National Basketball Association|
|Note: Those listed here either hold the title President of Basketball Operations or General Manager, or both.|