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Thread: Wat Misaka--An (Overlooked) NBA Pioneer

  1. #1
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    Default Wat Misaka--An (Overlooked) NBA Pioneer

    We must all acknowledge what one Wataru Misaka paved for. People would understandably think that black people were the first NBA players of colo(u)r when the league was establishing itself in the first couple of decades. Actually, before Charlie Cooper, Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, and Earl Lloyd were even the first African-American NBA players. Wat Misaka, the Ogden, Utah-born and raised figure who died on November 20 at age 96, made history as the first non-White NBA player as one of Japanese stock when the New York Knicks drafted him in the 1947 NBA Draft. Round 7, 61st overall that year at 5-7. Few people know about him and his breaking the color barrier. Did it incidentally in the very year Jackie Robinson did likewise for Major League Baseball, three years before black players started coming. Maybe it was because of the black/white racial dynamic and Asians like the Japanese from East Asia, never mind those actually born in the USA, were considered foreigners in the American context at the time. Wasn't a major deal when he played and there was no press conference. Something that has to do with basketball's low status inside the American mainstream sports scene

    Only played 3 games and scored 7 points for Ned Irish's Knicks wearing #17 before being cut in the 1947-48 season at the midseason mark although highly respected by teammates and opponents for his hustle, his charisma, his intangibles, after playing with the University of Utah Utes. Not a stat stuffer but served as a lockdown defender and never faced racial discrimination while on the team. Never was sent to the internment camps as a Utah native but was listed Hawaii-born and served as a WWII-era Army staff sergeant during the US occupation of Japan for two years in post-bombing Hiroshima. Won the 1946 NCAA championship in overtime over Dartmouth taking advantage of Arkansas' withdrawal due to a team accident following their elimination from the NIT by Kentucky in the first round. Did eventually play in NYC at Madison Square Garden to packed crowds, which impressed Knicks owner Ned Irish and wanted Misaka in his new league. The BAA-turned-NBA didn't want to court controversy with potential and racist anti-Japanese sentiments at its embryonic stage and want high attendance--still does seem unjust to let him go. Abe Saperstein once offered Misaka a Harlem Globetrotters contract. Misaka turned it down, saying its salary was the same as an electrical engineer.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/21/s...saka-dead.html

    People really should learn from his story as a pioneer and build him up. If he does get posthumously enshrined at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, it will be more as a contributor. The Undefeated's Cary Chow does a great job at it. Check out also Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story documentary. Plus the Japan Times also has a great piece expressing great admiration for Japan's Yuta Watanabe and Rui Haichimura (despises Trump for his immigration policies):
    https://theundefeated.com/features/w...know-his-name/
    https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/.../#.Xg54iEdKjcs

    It would be 62 years before we saw another Asian-American make into the NBA in Jeremy Lin, who is of Taiwanese heritage, playing with Golden St. As the United States and Canada become more multicultural in the subsequent decades, we now seen Chinese, Japanese, South Koreans, Iranians, and even from the Indian diaspora in the NBA. Still no Filipinos in the NBA never mind the longstanding and unwavering love for basketball there. Before Lin's arrival, it would be 53 years when the first Asian player got to play in China's Wang ZhiZhi with Dallas. Maybe a little earlier if Ma Jian made the Los Angeles Clippers regular season roster in 1994 under his lonely defiance against Chinese basketball authorities after playing at, incidentally, the University of Utah under the late Rick Majerus. Lin and later Rui Haichimura, now with the Washington Wizards, enjoyed meeting Misaka both times in Salt Lake City at the Vivent Smart Arena pregame. At least Misaka did live to see Lin win the NBA title this past year:
    https://www.standard.net/sports/gonz...2ba6e9809.html
    https://archive.sltrib.com/article.p...72&itype=CMSID
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/histo...history-books/
    Jusqui'ici tout va bien...

  2. #2
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    Couple Wat Misaka videos. First one is from NBA Insider detailing Misaka's life from Utah and his journey to his brief time spent with the New York Knicks but endured racist bullying
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-PV9QPr6w4

    Trailer to Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story documentary, an award-winning film directed by Bruce Alan Johnson and Christine Toy Johnson made a decade ago. Second YouTube link, also from the footage and where the footage is used for NBA Insider's vid, is an excerpt with Wat speaking on his early life, going to Weber St. (then Weber College) in Ogden, Utah, and getting involved in WWII post-Pearl Harbor with the brutal and shameful internment treatment of Japanese-Americans based in California and Arizona:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hz50-UunDcY
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfPVxCx6LsY

    The past meets the present in Asian-American NBA basketball at Salt Lake City when Wat Misaka met Jeremy Lin in his Houston Rockets days before a Utah Jazz game, as reported by ROOT Sports. Not unexpectedly, Lin came away hono(u)red. Note some fans nearby upon the meeting sporting Jeremy Lin's Harvard gear:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmYEm0n90ro
    Jusqui'ici tout va bien...

  3. #3
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    Continuing on with a 2012 Sports Illustrated piece on Wat Misaka from John Wertheim in making a connection with a far more recent Asian-American New York Knicks player that wound up with a more extensive pro career in Jeremy Lin as Linsanity of course was on the rise at the time. Allowed to keep his size-7 sneakers he played in with the Knicks until he donated them to a Japanese-American Museum in Los Angeles:
    https://www.si.com/more-sports/2012/...inwatarumisaka

    Bryan Meler from the National Post in Canada writes this Wat Misaka obituary that detailed some of the racial discrimination nonwhites like him faced on the road outside of Utah and New York, though he endured some racist calls in NYC. Kilo Wat was very good for size but it was size that partly played a role in not sticking to the roster even when he played solid defense as one of the first Knicks out-of-state recruits and becoming close to Carl Braun. It was Joe Lapchick's decision why he had to go, and he didn't like confrontation over prejudice:
    https://nationalpost.com/news/jap-go...pro-basketball
    http://www.espn.com/magazine/vol5no13misaka.html
    Jusqui'ici tout va bien...

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