By Samantha Sobolewski
Masai Ujiri made one request. As the Toronto Raptors president surveyed the jam-packed lecture hall at Ryerson University on Tuesday night, he asked that audience members refrain from posting his remarks on social media: “I’m known for getting in trouble, that’s all.”
He smiled, and continued: “If you want to hear the best from us, it’s the only thing we ask.”
It was not an easy request to make of the crowd, which had assembled on campus after hours to hear Ujiri speak about leadership and diversity in sports for the Women in Leadership Association, a student-run MBA group.
Ujiri has been making the rounds — online and on discussion panels, telling U.S. sports celebrity Bill Simmons that his best management practice was to “hire women” — but told the audience at Ryerson he is simply looking for the most qualified candidates, rather than specific genders.
“I don’t see a girl or a guy: I see a person that treats people unbelievably well, that’s smart, that knows their job, and a person that wants to progress and be the best,” he said. “And lastly, a person that wants to win.”
One of those people, who just also happens to be a woman, was one of Ujiri’s first hires as Raptors general manager, in 2013. Teresa Resch, vice president of basketball operations, joined Ujiri on the panel to discuss her own experiences as one of the highest-ranking women in an NBA front office.
Since Ujiri plucked her from the NBA’s head office, she’s seen three of her former colleagues hired in various front offices roles within NBA teams, such as Becky Bonner, the Orlando Magic’s director of player development and quality control.
“In the NBA, there haven’t been a lot of women that have been given the reins that Masai has given me,” she said. “And I think that’s changing.”
At first, Resch didn’t even comprehend the impact her role has had in empowering other women, until seeing the popularity of the first Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment-led She The North event, which drew a diverse crowd of women from various job titles.
“I didn’t really understand or realize the impact that story had on so many people across so many industries,” she said. “It made me realize that people who are in positions that are not typically thought of as a role women have, really have a responsibility to go out and tell people their story so more people can see themselves in their roles.”
Eleven women currently work for the Raptors and their G-league affiliate, Raptors 905, from communications to training to team services roles. Although there is plenty of job crossover, day-to-day within each NBA franchise, few of the women employed with the Raptors are explicitly involved in the decision-making of their NBA talent.
There’s Shelby Weaver, hired in 2017 as manager of player development. Another is Brittni Donaldson, a data analyst whose hire added to an already progressive division of the franchise (the Raptors redeveloped SportVU camera tracking technology code to their advantage in 2013 and were the first NBA team to use IBM’s Watson supercomputer in the 2016 draft).
And as glass-ceiling-shattering each is to the women they inspire, to Ujiri each is a valued contributor to the team’s overall success through bringing new ideas into the decisions made in the front office.
“I sit down in our meetings and I listen, whether it’s Teresa, whether it’s Shelby, all these guys, they bring a different perspective to the group,” he said. “It’s so, so, so important.”
Becky Hammon remains the only NBA female assistant coach, with the San Antonio Spurs. Houston’s Ariana Andonian is still the only female scout for an NBA team. Jeanie Buss is president of the Lakers. But no women work as general managers.
Despite his insistence he is just looking to hire the best candidates, the Raptors president is aware of one thing as he adds roles to his front office.
“All the bosses in my life are girls. Teresa, my daughter,” Ujiri said with a laugh. “Women run the world.”