''Wat'' A Player
Posted Apr 17 2001 12:00AM
Catching up with ''Wat'' Misaka, first NBA player of Asian descent
Jackie Robinson and Wataru "Wat" Misaka are inextricably linked.
It was 1947 and both were pioneers in integrating professional sports. While Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Misaka did the same in basketball with much less fanfare. More than half a century before the Dallas Mavericks drafted China's Wang Zhizhi in 1999, the New York Knicks drafted Misaka, the first NBA player of Asian descent, in the first round.
Misaka, a 5-7 guard, appeared in three games and scored seven points for the 1947-48 Knicks before he was cut for reasons never made clear to him. But he recalls his brief stint in the NBA as a pleasant one.
A Japanese-American, Misaka was born in Ogden, Utah, and, except for his time with the Knicks and a stint in the military, has lived in the area his whole life. After playing for Weber Junior College (now Weber State University) in Ogden, he helped guide the University of Utah to the 1944 NCAA and 1947 NIT championships and was inducted into the Utah Sports hall of Fame in 1999. Two years before, he was inducted into the Japanese-American National Bowling Hall of Fame.
Despite the specter of World War II still fresh when he broke into the NBA, Misaka experienced little intolerance while with the Knicks.
"Whether real or not, I felt less prejudice against me in New York than I did anywhere else," said Misaka. "Playing for Utah (at Madison Square Garden), New Yorkers are great fans of underdogs and they really backed us up, even against St. John's. When I went back as a Knick, there were people who remembered me from playing for Utah and would say hello on the streets, sometimes."
A Utah Jazz (who else?) fan, Misaka has followed Wang's progress with great interest. And while Misaka is rooting for the 7-1 center to be a forerunner of an influx of Asian basketball talent, Misaka is unsure whether he will feel any kinship other than one of basketball when he finally sees Wang play.
"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."