In something straight out of Succession, an executive of the parent company that co-owns MLSE — the ownership group of the Toronto Raptors — tried multiple times to manipulate, block, and sabotage Masai Ujiri’s new deal. In a bombshell investigation by Christine Dobby and Doug Smith of The Toronto Star, individuals within Canadian telecommunications behemoth Rogers Communications and the NBA revealed that Edward Rogers, the former chairman of Rogers, actively fought plans to re-sign Ujiri, whose contract as Raptors President was coming due and had been speculated about since the start of the team’s 2019-20 Tampa season.
Negotiations to re-sign Ujiri were all but wrapped this past July. MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Bell, the other Canadian telecom juggernaut that happens to also have an ownership stake in MLSE, were onboard for a package that included incentive pay linked to future valuation of the team — the Star‘s story notes one NBA franchise offered Ujiri a three percent ownership stake in the team and that multiple clubs in the English Premiere League came calling. But despite this kind of pressure for MLSE to keep their guy, Rogers remained the lone and outspoken detractor of getting the deal done.
One particularly damning section of the story recalls Ujiri being invited to late-July negotiations at Rogers’ cottage, a few hours north of Toronto, with Ujiri leaving “feeling positive,” but Rogers complaining that it was one of the worst meetings he’d ever had. According to sources, Rogers called Ujiri “arrogant” and alleged he arrived with bodyguards. In fact, Ujiri arrived with his regular driver and a camera operator who was capturing footage for an upcoming Giants of Africa (Ujiri’s longstanding non-profit organization) documentary. Rogers went as far as to call Ujiri after the meeting and to tell him he wasn’t worth the money he was being paid, after which Ujiri reportedly felt so disrespected he considered stepping away from his role and the team for a year.
While Tanenbaum and MLSE went into damage control, Rogers went on to demand a cryptic 12 conditions be met before he would consider the deal. According to the story, “eleven of the conditions concerned contractual issues such as the terms of incentive-based pay, but the 12th had nothing to do with Ujiri’s compensation.” Essentially, Rogers attempted to adjust the ownership stakes of MLSE — as it stands, Rogers Communications owns 37.5 percent, Bell another 37.5 percent, and Tanenbaum’s own group controls the remainder — and combine it with the Toronto Blue Jays to create an entirely new and separate company. Tanenbaum and Bell held out, while Rogers went to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to complain. But because Tanenbaum also holds the position of governor of the Raptors, he has the final say on personnel disputes and possessed the ability to overrule Rogers.
Rogers, who was ousted as chairman by a board that included his mother and sister since this all went down, has since put together a shadow council of a separate, not technically legit board at Rogers to reappoint him as chairman. Regardless of what he attempts, though, Ujiri is now firmly ensconced in his role as Raptors president.
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