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Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri reacts after receiving his 2019 NBA basketball championship ring from Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, before the Raptors played the New Orleans Pelicans in Toronto on Oct. 29, 2019.Frank Gunn/The Associated Press

One way of looking at Masai Ujiri vs. one angry California policeman is that it ends up a win for the good guys.

By now, everyone knows the broad strokes of this story. That in attempting to get on the court after the Raptors won the 2019 NBA championship, the Toronto Raptors president got into it with an Oakland sheriff’s deputy, Alan Strickland.

Strickland claimed Ujiri attacked him, and sued. Ujiri denied that, and countersued. Video footage released more than a year later resoundingly backed up Ujiri’s version of events.

In January, a California judge declined to dismiss Ujiri’s suit. That apparently prompted Strickland to give up. Both sides have withdrawn their claims, with no money changing hands.

“We are disappointed that [Ujiri] and his family have had to endure the past 18 months of worry and uncertainty, but for their sake we are pleased the legal process has come to an end,” Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment said in a statement on Wednesday.

So if justice hasn’t necessarily been served in this instance, you might say common sense prevailed.

You might say that, but only if this had ended five minutes after it started with an apology and a handshake, and then hadn’t made the news. But it didn’t, and it did. And then it inexplicably dragged through the courts for a year and a half.

If this is a win, it’s because of the loss. Not of time or money, but of trust. After watching this whole thing go down, you start to worry about yourself and how secure your place in the world is. Ujiri’s situation proves that is a healthy fear.

That’s the only perspective any of us brings to the news – our own.

“What would I have done?” That’s what we ask ourselves when we hear about something that’s happened.

Most of the time, we think we’d have done differently. That we’d have defused trouble, or wouldn’t have got anywhere near it in the first place.

That’s why the bad things that happen in life take us by surprise. Because we thought we were too smart, too special or too lucky to go wrong.

Ujiri’s predicament hit a chord for a bunch of reasons. He’s famous. He’s widely admired. It happened in the midst of one of the great moments in Canadian sport, so everyone was watching.

But what made the story irresistible was its invitation to insert yourself into the starring role.

What would you do if someone shoved you as you went about your business? What if he just did it out of nowhere? In a public place, with all your colleagues around and people watching? What if he was wearing a badge? Would you shove back?

Most people probably wouldn’t. Ujiri didn’t. He didn’t put his hands on Strickland until after he’d been manhandled a second time.

Here’s where it gets interesting. What would you expect to happen to you if, like Ujiri, you fought back?

You might expect you could talk your way out of it. Another person might think the situation would be cleared up by someone else in charge. I’d expect to be taken to the ground by a half-dozen cops, arrested and then “accidentally” hit my head on the door three or four times on the way into the cruiser.

What you think would happen to you is a direct result of where you see yourself in the great pecking order of society, and how often you’ve found yourself on the wrong side of authority.

The lower you are, the worse it goes. The less time you’ve spent travelling below the middle class, the more confident you are that the only people who get screwed over in life are the ones who deserve it.

Ujiri has risen about as high on the scale as anyone can get. He has profile and money. He pals around with presidents and pop stars. He’s a star himself.

And it didn’t do Ujiri a ton of good.

He wasn’t arrested on the spot, as many of us might have been. Too embarrassing to too many powerful people. Too many TV cameras around.

But the Cali cops said afterward they still wanted Ujiri in cuffs. His celebrity and the NBA’s clout protected him again. His bosses flew him home on a chartered jet.

But it didn’t end. Ujiri was drawn into what must have been shockingly expensive litigation against a government official whose version of events was proved months ago to be, at best, an exaggeration and, at worst, a lie.

What if they had charged Ujiri? What if there had been no video? And no cameras, no NBA, no chartered jet? What if some judge decided to take him down a peg? What if Ujiri didn’t have the full backing of a multibillion-dollar conglomerate? What then? This could very easily have ended very differently.

None of this is any surprise to people who live on the bottom half of the pecking order. They are used to the idea that power is exerted against them, often arbitrarily.

It was the other half who were shocked by this unfolding incident. The sort of people who can afford to buy tickets to Raptors games. The sort who read this newspaper.

If someone as high up on the pole as Masai Ujiri could find himself getting ground through the gears of the U.S. court system, what does that mean for those people? Exactly how vulnerable are they to the whims of some random public official who’s having a bad day, or is looking to make a few bucks, or just wants to work out some frustration on a civilian? And how much worse must this be for people who don’t make as much money as you do?

Only on that basis can this sorry tale be called a sort of win. That it made the people you’d call life’s winners think just a little more deeply about power, how it is exercised, against whom and on whose authority.

Because in this case, the answer to that question we all ask ourselves – “What would I have done?” – turns out to be, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

In a civil society, that is not a good enough answer.

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