Today in 1947, Wataru “Wat” Misaka became the first non-white player to be drafted into what is now the NBA.
Misaka was born and raised in Ogden, Utah.
He played, and excelled at, a wide range of sports.
In fact, when he made it into pro basketball, some people in his hometown were surprised because they knew him as a standout bowler!
On the court, he was a standout on defense, and on offense he could sink some impressive shots, especially for a guy who was 5’7.
He won championships in high school, junior college and four-year college, including an NCAA men’s basketball title with the University of Utah in 1944.
That’s particularly remarkable: Misaka, a Japanese American, became a basketball star and champion at a time when the US government had forced many Japanese Americans into internment camps.
There was even a camp in his home state.
People in the camps were some of Misaka’s biggest fans, by the way.
Misaka was drafted into the Army and served overseas; he resumed his college basketball career when he came back, and that’s when he learned he was being drafted by the New York Knicks.
He was the first player of Asian descent to join the Basketball Association of America, a league that eventually became part of the NBA.
Misaka’s first game there was also one of his last; he only played three times in the league.
Still, they were historic appearances.
He played just a few months after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in baseball, and several years before Earl Lloyd became the first Black NBA player.
After basketball, Misaka pursued a career in engineering, raised a family, and took up bowling again, scoring a near perfect game at age 80.
Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota are known for having the largest Hmong population in the United States.
This weekend the Twin Cities host the Hmong International Freedom Festival, which features, among other attractions, some pretty serious sports competitions.
One of them is sepak takraw, which is like traditional volleyball, except you can’t use your arms or hands.
That sport is also known as kick volleyball, if you hadn’t already guessed.
Hmong International Freedom Festival (Visit Saint Paul)