This story has been updated to include a statement from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
The moment the Toronto Raptors became NBA Champions last June was tarnished when an Oakland cop, hired to work security at the game, refused to let the team’s president Masai Ujiri onto the court to celebrate.
Now Alan Strickland, sheriff’s deputy for Alameda County, is suing Ujiri, the Raptors, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and the NBA, alleging that Ujiri hit him in the chest and head, causing a “permanent disability,” the Toronto Star reports.
A spokesperson for Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment said Strickland's accusations are baseless.
“We are disappointed but not at all surprised Mr. Strickland has elected to take this path. His claims are baseless and entirely without merit. They should and will be viewed appropriately for what they are," the statement said. "The Toronto Raptors and Masai have jointly retained very able counsel who will be handling this matter on our behalf and consequently, we do not intend to make any further statement about it.”
The Alameda County district attorney did not lay battery charges against Ujiri. But the language in the lawsuit all but describes Ujiri—a Black man and one of the most celebrated executives in sports—as a violent criminal.
Strickland, who is on medical leave from his job, argued in the lawsuit that Ujiri has a “violent predisposition and propensity for physical violence.” He did not provide any examples of that behaviour.
He said that as a result of the alleged assault, he sustained "shock of injury to his nervous system." Strickland claims there should have been “signs warning of danger, including the danger of Masai Ujiri.” He accused Ujiiri of being a threat to the public’s “safety and security.” The lawsuit also alleges Ujiri, the architect of a championship-winning team, "was unfit to perform the work for which he was hired."
After the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors on June 13, Ujiri attempted to get onto the floor but was stopped by Strickland, which is when the altercation ensued.
Strickland claimed that Ujiri refused to produce his credentials and that Ujiri hit him in the face and the chest; his account was backed up by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.
However, Greg Wiener, an eyewitness who attended the game told the Associated Press Strickland didn’t ask for Ujiri’s credentials, and that it was Strickland who shoved Ujiri first, at which point he said Ujiri pushed back.
“The thing about the cops saying the policeman asked for his credentials, that didn’t happen. There was no conversation at all,” Wiener told the Associated Press at the time. “This part about striking him in the face, yeah that didn’t happen.”
Wiener said it looked like “somebody trying to embellish what happened to protect what they did, what the policeman did.”
Video footage from the game shows a man standing between Strickland and Ujiri in the aftermath of the incident, holding each of them back at various points. Other footage shows that Ujiri’s credentials were on his wrist.
The incident raised questions about whether Ujiri, at the height of success in his field, was racially profiled by a white cop at his own team’s championship game.
“What should have been the proudest moment of Ujiri’s life, and should have been a moment of unadulterated joy for Raptors fans, became yet another footnote in the body of evidence on racial profiling,” wrote Maclean’s contributing editor Andray Domise.
Strickland and his wife are seeking at least $75,000 in general damages, as well as punitive damages, lost wages, and medical and legal expenses to be determined by a jury.
Ujiri spent the weekend on a diplomatic trip with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Ujiri's foundation Giants of Africa makes basketball more accessible for African youth.