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Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, centre left, walks with guard Kyle Lowry following an altercation after the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 to win the NBA Finals, in Oakland, Calif., on June 13, 2019.The Associated Press

Shortly after the story broke that Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri had been in a courtside altercation with a cop after the end of the NBA Finals, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office explained what happened.

In that telling, Ujiri was the aggressor. He’d been asked to display his credential and would not.

“And that’s when he tried to push past our deputy, and our deputy pushed him back, and there was another push that kind of moved up and struck our deputy in the face,” Sergeant Ray Kelly told the San Francisco Chronicle.

It’s not that none of that is true. It’s that it bears just enough resemblance to the truth that you can hide a bunch of nonsense behind it.

At the time Kelly was speaking, he said he’d already seen video of the incident.

A few days later, he doubled down: “I’ve watched the video. The video is very compelling and descriptive and shows that our deputy was acting in accordance with his training and within the guidelines to work that event.”

More than a year later, the rest of us have now seen that footage. And it shows how much dirt you can hide behind phrases like “acting in accordance” and “within the guidelines.”

The officer who had the set-to with Ujiri, deputy Alan Strickland, has been off work since then, claiming a variety of injuries. He’s in the midst of suing Ujiri.

On Tuesday, Ujiri launched a countersuit. As part of that filing, the footage Kelly used as reference was released publicly. It hit the internet like the wave that flattens Manhattan at the end of Deep Impact.

In it you can see (and, in one case, hear) Ujiri approach Strickland, who is staffing the perimeter of the court moments after the Raptors won the championship. A man who appears to be an Oracle Arena security staffer is also standing there.

As he nears Strickland, Ujiri is in the midst of taking his NBA credential out of his inside jacket pocket. The security staffer is the one who asks to see it. Before Ujiri can get it out, Strickland shoves him, two-handed, hard enough that he staggers backward. The shove is so ambitious that Ujiri almost takes down the staffer, bowling-pin style.

“Back the fuck up,” Strickland shouts. Ujiri stands there stunned for an instant.

“What are you pushing me for? I’m the president of the Raptors,” Ujiri says. With his hands at his side, he advances again.

Strickland shoves him once more, just as hard. Ujiri is a big guy and less caught by surprise the second time. He opens his arms in the universal gesture for “Are you for real, man?”

At this point, bystanders jump in, one shouting, “Please, please, please.”

The longer-range security footage then shows Ujiri shove Strickland in the chest. The shove does not “kind of move up” or strike anyone in the face. It’s just a shove. This time, Strickland is staggered.

By this point, several people are involved, and the fight is broken up. This is where the TV footage from that night picked up. After a few beats, Raptor Kyle Lowry finds Ujiri, wraps a protective arm around him and escorts him onto the court.

So after a year of flights to Oakland to parlay with cops and prosecutors, back-and-forth lawsuits, getting knee-deep in lawyers’ fees and aggravation, Ujiri is vindicated – at least in the public square.

The Toronto Raptors President of Basketball Operation, Masai Ujiri has filed a countersuit against San Francisco deputy Alan Strickland over an altercation the two had after the Raptors won Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals.


Some will still say he should not have tried to walk past a cop who wanted him to stop. To which I would say: When did people stop using their words to solve problems?

Other people may say it is never right, under any circumstances, to manhandle a police officer. To which I would say: If “law,” as a concept, means that anyone in uniform can put their hands on me, with or without cause, and that I cannot do similarly to protect myself, then they ought to put the word “martial” in front of it.

You don’t want people shoving you? Then don’t shove people. Like most good rules for life, we all learned that in kindergarten.

In a lot of ways, this incident went well in its aftermath.

There was no rush to pillory Ujiri on the say-so of some random guy with a beef. Strickland’s story – that in Ujiri’s moment of joy at reaching the pinnacle of his professional life he decided to celebrate by attacking the first person he encountered – never passed the sniff test. Common sense still rules in most corners of real life, if not on the internet.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment backed Ujiri immediately and resolutely, as did the NBA. As is his habit in all things, Ujiri played the incident supercool.

So one way of looking at this is that good intentions won the day (a year later).

The loser in this, as far as I can see, is public trust as it applies to cops. Not just the cops in Alameda County (based on this chain of events, if I lived there and saw one coming, I’d run), but cops everywhere.

Strickland may be the prime mover in this, but he is not the worst offender. The Sgt. Kellys of the world, the ones who saw what happened and then backed Strickland’s play, what’s their angle here?

Did they not think the video would get out? Do they honestly believe that it is within their rights to manhandle the citizens they are sworn to protect just because they’re feeling frisky? Is it their understanding that, by law and “acting in accordance” with “guidelines,” nothing they do can ever be wrong? And that those protections then extend to (this is being charitable) massaging the truth after the fact?

I assume most police officers do not think this way, because I’d like to believe we live in a civil society and – this part is more important to me – that most people don’t like hurting other people just because they can.

But after listening to what was claimed and then watching those videos, it’s clear I may be wrong.