I stand corrected. Jeremy Lin will not be the first American-born Asian-American to appear in an NBA game. That honor belongs to Wataru “Wat” Misaka, and we go all the way back to 1947 to find his debut for the Basketball Association of America, which would later become the National Basketball Association.
A 5’7″ Utah native, Misaka is nisei (born in the U.S. to parents who were born in Japan) and played for the University of Utah. He was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1947 and played three games for them. Misaka actually has the distinction of being the first non-white player in the NBA. Remarkably, Misaka broke basketball’s “color barrier” in the same year that Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s “color barrier.”
In an interview published in 2005 in the New York times, “Wat” looked back with fond memories of his playing days. After a very successful career at Utah, especially a memorable NIT performance against Kentucky, Misaka was drafted by New York. His BAA career did not last long, but he has a good perspective on how his race affected it. “I guess at the time I felt like it didn’t have to be a reason,” Misaka said. “Being a minority,we learned to live with that sort of thing without complaining. So that was not anything new.”
Misaka faced intolerance and racism in different places, but not in basketball. In a 2001 interview on NBA.com: “It’s kind of strange,” said Misaka, who turned down an offer to play for the Harlem Globetrotters so that he could return to school to earn a degree in engineering. “My parents were Japanese. But in my entire career, I played with whites, so I just feel like I’m just like the rest. The way it was and the way they treated me, I was just another basketball player.”
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