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Masai Ujiri’s Outrageous Legal Saga Is Finally Over

Masai Ujiri pulling out his credentials before being shoved.
Screenshot via Diamond Leung/Twitter

After almost two years, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri is finally out from under his arduous legal battle with Alameda County Sheriff’s Deputy Alan Strickland. That ordeal began when Strickland, who was working a security detail in Oakland during the NBA Finals in 2019, hassled and shoved Ujiri as he was trying to come onto the court to celebrate his team’s first championship. Strickland’s legal team filed a motion last Wednesday to dismiss his federal lawsuit against Ujiri, and Ujiri has also dropped his countersuit against Strickland.

Raptors ownership released a statement last week, expressing happiness that Ujiri has been “completely vindicated” and saying they were “deeply troubled by the fact that Masai was put in this position in the first place.” Ujiri also put out a statement and a lengthy video of his own, reflecting on his misfortune and the opportunity it has given him to address systemic ills. “I’ve thought about how hard it was for me,” he said. “And I’m privileged, I’m blessed, I’m lucky. We have to make it better. We have to fight, and we have to stand up, and we have to speak up.”

The saga began when Strickland claimed that Ujiri pushed and struck him after Strickland calmly asked him to show his credentials to get on the floor. The Alameda County District Attorney planned to file battery charges against Ujiri, as Strickland claimed he’d been concussed in the incident, although he also claimed that body camera footage failed to capture the blow. Strickland’s version of events began to crumble almost immediately, as witness testimony contradicted his version of events.

Months after charges were dropped, Strickland filed a federal suit against Ujiri for allegedly hitting him “in the face and chest with both fists,” which he claimed caused him “physical, mental, emotional, and economic injuries.” Strickland was on paid medical leave for over a year (he made $224,000 in 2018, per Transparent California), though he was transitioned to administrative work at some point in the past six months. Ujiri denied Strickland’s claims at every turn, even when the NBA did not fully have his back, and he filed a countersuit against Strickland once the officer’s body camera footage emerged. That footage shows that Ujiri had his credentials out and was harassed and pushed by Strickland, rather than doing anything violent against the deputy.

Strickland continued to hold firm, claiming his security work was essential to preventing another Munich massacre in October and demanding to be shown Ujiri’s exact badge just two weeks ago. His lawyers also kept hewing to the line that Strickland, a serial insurance fraudster, was still actively in treatment for the injuries he allegedly suffered in June 2019. A federal judge ordered the case into mediation in late January, following a hearing in which she questioned the legal acumen of Strickland’s representatives and expressed amazement that the case hadn’t been settled after the release of video proving that Strickland’s case held no water.

Now that the suits have finally been dropped, Ujiri can move on. As he’s said multiple times, nothing can ever really make up for having the celebration of his first career title and the first Raptors championship tainted in this way, but no longer having to worry about suffering legal or financial consequences from a specious accusation is clearly a huge weight off his chest. Since the saga began, Ujiri has also consistently pointed out how lucky he is to have the resources and public support to fight the case, both of which are luxuries that not every black personis afforded when victimized by law enforcement. “I have to keep doing my part,” he said on Monday. “For the youth, for future generations.”

Strickland, for his part, is getting off incredibly easy after mounting a shameful multi-year effort to punish and besmirch Masai Ujiri in an attempt to cover his own ass. He will also continue to draw a hefty paycheck from Alameda County after raking it in while his department protected him. All he’ll have to pay for his actions are legal fees and some light damage to his reputation. If years of scrutiny of the justice system have shown us one thing, it is that people whose jobs are holding power-mad cops to account are loath to punish their charges for fucking with people and ruining their lives.