Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, shown here when he...

Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, shown here when he was executive vice president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets, discusses the trade of Nene to the Washington Wizards during a news conference on Thursday, March 15, 2012, in Denver. Credit: AP

North America mostly shrugged when the Eastern Conference playoff roulette wheel came up with Nets-Raptors in the first round, a matchup no TV executive or neutral fan possibly could love.

Then Saturday happened.

It began with a clever headline in the Toronto Sun: "Raptors vs. Dinosaurs," a reference to the advanced ages of many key Nets. But that was a mere warm-up for what went down shortly before game time.

That was when Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri addressed a throng of mostly teenage and young adult fans at Maple Leaf Plaza outside Air Canada Centre, where a screen was set up for them to watch Game 1 of the series.

Ujiri closed his remarks with an expletive, followed by "Brooklyn," then handed off the microphone and left the stage with a dramatic flourish.


Come halftime, he found himself addressing reporters and apologized for his language -- but not his sentiment.

"I apologize," he said. "I used the wrong choice of words out there. This thing is really not about me; it's about the players and the playoffs. So [I was] just trying to get the crowd out there rattled. Wrong choice of words.

"I apologize to kids out there and to the Brooklyn guys. Nothing against them, just trying to get our fans going. That's it. That's it."

As Ujiri began to walk away, a reporter asked, "Is that how you feel?"

Said the GM: "You know how I feel. Thanks, guys. Thank you. I apologize I won't answer any questions, but you know how I feel. I don't like them, but I apologize."

The Nets got the best revenge with a 94-87 victory, and then coach Jason Kidd rubbed it in. Twice reporters asked him about the vulgar shot at the Nets' home borough; twice Kidd said he was not aware of the comments or of the man who made them.

"You have to tell me who the GM is," Kidd said. "I don't even know who that is, so I could [not] care less what they think about Brooklyn. We have a job to do, and that's to play the game of basketball."

Not surprisingly, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was more supportive.

"I heard it," he said. "That doesn't offend me whatsoever. That's Masai. That's why our team plays like that. He's a fiery guy. That should represent how we feel."

Added Raptors guard Kyle Lowry: "He's a very passionate guy. He believes in what we have and what we're doing and that's what he is. He's a passionate, very emotional guy."

What did the Nets' Kevin Garnett think about it? "It's all good," he said. "It's motivation. So keep rooting for the Raptors, keep rooting for the home team. That's what it is."

Ujiri, 43, has a highly unusual background for an NBA general manager and was profiled in a lengthy feature just Saturday morning on TSN's "SportsCentre." It included footage of basketball camps he conducts in his native Nigeria.

After being introduced to the sport at age 13, he got good enough to play at Bismarck State College and Montana State-Billings before spending six years playing professionally throughout Europe.

He later became a scout, and in 2010, the Nuggets named him the NBA's first African-born GM. It was Ujiri who orchestrated the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. He was named NBA Executive of the Year in 2012-13.

Saturday wasn't the first time during the week he expressed annoyance with the Nets. Here is what he told the Toronto Sun regarding allegations that the Nets tanked late in the season in an attempt to get the sixth seed and draw the third-seeded Raptors:

"You know what? We haven't lost one second of sleep worrying about the Brooklyn Nets. At the end of the day, if we want to be a good team, we have to play good teams. We're not hoping for anybody. We're in the playoffs. You have to play. They can do whatever they want. We'll be right here."

They will be back again for Game 2 on Tuesday. But Ujiri likely will keep his thoughts to himself next time.

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