The son of a doctor mother and a hospital administrator/nursing educationist father, Ujiri originally played soccer as a youth before focusing on basketball. His interest with basketball started as a 13-year old playing with friends on outdoor basketball courts in northern Nigeria. This interest would be fed by American sports magazines and VHS tapes of NBA games or basketball movies. He admiredHakeem Olajuwon, an NBA star who was born in Nigeria.
Ujiri grew to be 6-foot-4 and emigrated to the United States to play two years of basketball at Bismarck State College, then transferred to Montana State University-Billings, though he left the latter school after one semester. He spent six years playing professionally in Europe. After ending a professional playing career in 2002, Ujiri worked as a youth coach in Nigeria.
He became the first African-born general manager for an American major league sports team. In 2013, he was named the NBA Executive of the Year, the only non-American to ever win the award. On May 31, 2013, Ujiri signed a 5 year, 15 million dollar deal to become GM of the Toronto Raptors.
Ujiri has also been the director of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Africa program, which promotes basketball throughout the continent. He also conducts two camps, one for the top 50 players of Nigeria, which is sponsored by Nestle Milo, and another for African big men, which Ujiri sponsors himself with help from Nike.