At Purpose CPA, we are big sports fan. Chad’s an avid golfer and I like to get in my weekly runs. In my younger years, I had TV sportscasts broadcasts on permanently as I studied for my exams . There was something calming hearing the quiet banter of the likes of Jamie Campbell, Rod Phillips, and Jack Armstrong. As I’ve gotten a bit older and wiser, I’ve taken more interest in the organizational behaviour of sport. In the words of Jim Collins”, what makes a sports franchise go from “Good to Great?” What defines great in sports? Much like a corporation and its drive for profit, sports is singular and driven by winning. And when a sports team wins multiple championships, they are crowned a dynasty and elevated to nobility.

But what if great can be something more than profit or winning? What if a sports team can combine winning with social impact? I see this playing out with the Toronto Raptors and how they’ve taken up the mantle to raise awareness of racism. Let me start by disclosing, I am a homer for the Raps — they are my NBA team. But today, I will take off my virtual throwback jersey and objectively dissect the actions to date.

  • Hiring of Black American sports executive Wayne Embry to serve in roles such as Senior Advisor, President, and General Manager since 2004. Notably, he was the first Black American GM & President in NBA history prior to his time with the Raptors.

    IMPACT: Born in 1937, Mr. Embry was already 67 when he decided to join the Raptors. And he could have taken up other pursuits in his retirement years. Instead, he stayed on to provide a respected voice for minorities in the Raptors organization.

  • Hiring of Canadian-Nigerian sports executive Masai Ujiri to be Executive Vice-President and General Manager in 2013. Known for his 2018 all-in bet to trade for elite player Kawhi Leonard to win the NBA Championship. Perhaps less known is that Mr. Ujiri was Director of Global Scouting and Assistant GM for the Raptors prior to departing and returning to the team. Being of African descent, Masai is committed to helping African basketball players achieve their potential by actively promoting his non-profit Giants of Africa.

    IMPACT: Masai was not hired because some diversity initiative, he was hired because he is one smart and driven man with a plan. In sports, seven years to deliver results is an eternity and Raptors commitment to Masai’s vision of what an organization can become is long term-thinking. Similarly, Masai is a highly-sought after executive and has expressed no desire to move elsewhere. Masai has the wisdom to realize he is not settling, and instead, the Raptors are the platform to achieve his vision for social impact.

  • Using the Raptors access to a massive audience to speak out against racism and injustice. Shortly after the killing of George Floyd in May, the Raptors issued a statement condemning the violence. In July, the team buses were adorned with Black Lives Matters. Since May, the team’s players and social media channels continue to keep this issue top of mind.

    IMPACT: The Raptors organization put money where their mouth is and used their resources to address racism. The Raps repurposed its brand and marketing expertise to spread a social message to it’s global audience. Furthermore, the management has empowered the faces of the organization: players, coaches, front-office to use this opportunity to speak out. This explicit support is significant as topics such as politics and race were always taboo in the workplace. This is no longer the case as business can no longer do nothing as the world becomes more unstable.

  • Giving Black American Assistant Coach Adrian Griffin the opportunity to be Head Coach for a game on August 12, 2020. The NBA has 75% Black players but only eight of the 30 head coaches are Black. Often the case, it takes a network of contacts and relationships to secure a senior role in the management which makes it even more difficult for a minority.

    IMPACT: Possessing a high level of leadership and vision, Head Coach Nick Nurse know hows to get the most out of his team, including his coaching staff. As a developer of talent and mentor, Coach Nurse knows that his gesture will give his mentee a game-day experience to serve in his future roles. And Mr. Nurse knows that this simple gesture will raise awareness of racism and lack of opportunity. As a minority without the relationships to open up doors for someone like Adrian Griffin, it takes someone like Nick Nurse to advocate and open that door for you.

More than empty words, the Toronto Raptors are taking action in the fight against systemic racism. Thinking back to the hiring of Wayne Embry in 2004, the organization has been patiently building itself to piece by piece. It took 16 years to go from good to great. And with this year’s social awakening, the Raptors are poised to combine winning with social impact.