Friday, May 24

First minority basketball player to integrate goes unrecognized

Player's career laudable in light of era's anti-Japanese sentiment

By Jon Chang

I am writing in order to clear up a large omission in regards to
integration, sports and the NBA. Wat Misaka was picked in the first
round of the professional draft in 1947 by the New York Knicks
after playing for the University of Utah, the 1944 NCAA champion

Unfortunately Misaka, a Japanese American, played only three
games in the NBA, scoring a total of seven points. But while Misaka
was the first person of color integrated into the NBA, all 20 books
on the history of the NBA which I have seen list Chuck Cooper (an
African American who joined the NBA in 1956) as the Jackie Robinson
of the NBA with regard to breaking the color barrier and
integration. Not only is this historical fact altered, but I have
never seen Wat Misaka’s name even mentioned when it comes to
being a sports-integration pioneer in any sports history books.

This version of the integration of the NBA in 1956 (by Cooper)
as opposed to 1947 (by Misaka) is a little bit disturbing because
it makes me wonder when America will start appreciating and
recognizing the history and contributions of all Americans and not
just those which are deemed politically and demographically

For example, how about Tiger Woods and how he is represented as
an American? His mother is Asian, and his father is one-fourth
Chinese and three-fourths African American. Yet he is never
depicted as an Asian American golfer and always an African American
golfer when in fact, he is more Asian (genetically) than anything
else. What happened with Wat Misaka is analogous to the depiction
of Tiger Woods. Omission is another way minorities are

So I have begun a campaign this summer whereby I hope to have
all the books on NBA basketball history re-written to include Wat
Misaka as the first minority in the NBA. Misaka, the NBA’s
first non-white player, was there nine years before Chuck Cooper.
He achieved this in light of the fact that the Japanese internment
camps had just closed in 1946 and anti-miscegenation laws, which
precluded African Americans as well as Asian Americans from
intermarrying with whites, were in place in more than 25

Also, segregation in the military (i.e. all-Asian units such as
442nd and the 100th) and anti-Asian immigration laws were still in
force. The omission of Misaka’s achievement seems to discount
the discrimination and historical barriers that Asian Americans
faced everyday in their struggle to survive and assimilate.

I can’t fathom why the achievement of Misaka is not seen
as a milestone for the integration and acceptance of people of all
colors, especially when you take into account that Utah’s
1944 NCAA national championship team had not one but two Asian
Americans on its squad ““ Misaka, who was an All-American that
year, and his teammate Mas Tatsuno.

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