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Wataru "Wat" Misaka (三阪 亙, Misaka Wataru, born December 21, 1923) is an American retired professional basketball player. A 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) point guard of Japanese descent, he was the first non-white player and the first player of Asian descent to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA), known then as the Basketball Association of America (BAA).[1]

Wataru Misaka
Wat Misaka.jpg
Misaka from the 1948 Utonian
Personal information
Born (1923-12-21) December 21, 1923 (age 95)
Ogden, Utah
Listed height5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)
Listed weight150 lb (68 kg)
Career information
High schoolOgden (Ogden, Utah)
CollegeWeber State (1941–1943)
Utah (1943–1944, 1946–1947)
NBA draft1947 / Round: -- / Pick: --
Selected by the New York Knicks
Playing career1947–1948
PositionPoint guard
Career history
1947–1948New York Knicks
Career highlights and awards
Career statistics
Points7 (2.3 ppg)
Games played3
Stats at

Misaka played college basketball for the University of Utah and helped his school win the 1944 NCAA and 1947 NIT championships. He took a two-year hiatus between these titles to serve in the United States Army in the American occupation of Japan.[2][3] Misaka subsequently played three games for the New York Knicks during the 1947–48 season.


Early lifeEdit

Misaka, a Nisei, was born in Ogden, Utah on December 21, 1923. Growing up during World War II, Misaka was a regular target of racial discrimination because of his Japanese ethnicity. Raised in the basement of his father's barber shop—between a bar and a pawn shop on 25th Street, where brothels abounded—Misaka was denied service at restaurants and avoided on the street.[4] Despite this, Misaka still participated in sports. Misaka led his high school team, Ogden High School, to a state championship title in 1940. The next year, he led the team to a regional championship title in 1941.[5]

College and military serviceEdit

After high school, Misaka continued his education at the same time that many other Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps.[6] He attended junior college at Weber College, where his team won two championships.[4] Eventually, Misaka enrolled at the University of Utah and joined the basketball team. The young team finished with an 18–3 record in the 1943–44 season. They were invited to both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT Tournament. The team chose the latter because it was more prestigious at the time, and meant a trip to New York. The team lost to the University of Kentucky in the first round, but was given a chance to play in the NCAA tournament due to the University of Arkansas's withdrawal because of a team accident. The team took advantage of this and won the tournament, beating Dartmouth College 42–40 in overtime. Two nights later, Misaka and his team played the NIT champions, St. John's, in an exhibition match at Madison Square Garden, where his team won 43–36.[7]

Misaka was later drafted for the war effort and rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. After two years, Misaka returned to the University of Utah and rejoined the team. The team won their second national championship in four years. Because of their success, Utah was invited to the NIT championship tournament in New York. The team slid by the first two rounds before beating Kentucky 49–45 to capture the 1947 NIT championship title. Misaka played the whole game, holding Ralph Beard, the national player of the year, to just one point.

Professional basketball careerEdit

He was selected by the New York Knicks in the 1947 BAA Draft. He debuted as the first non-Caucasian player in professional basketball in 1947, the same year that Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line.[1][8] The first African American did not play in the NBA until 1950.[1] Misaka played in three games and scored seven points in the 1947–48 season before being cut from the team because, Misaka believes, the Knicks had too many guards.[9][10][3] He said he did not feel any discrimination during his time with the Knicks, but he was not close to anyone either.[8]

Later yearsEdit

Misaka declined an offer to play with the Harlem Globetrotters, and he returned home to earn a degree in engineering from Utah.[1] "The salary for a rookie and the salary for starting engineer weren't much different", Misaka recalled.[3] He then joined a company in Salt Lake City as an engineer.[3][6] He and his wife, Kate, have two children.[3]


Misaka was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.[4] In 2000, Misaka was featured in a landmark exhibit, More Than a Game: Sport in the Japanese American Community, at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.[8][11] A documentary film, Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story by Bruce Alan Johnson and Christine Toy Johnson, premiered in 2008 about Misaka's playing career and his status as America's first non-Caucasian player in the pros.[6][12]

BAA career statisticsEdit

  GP Games played
 FG%  Field-goal percentage
 FT%  Free-throw percentage
 APG  Assists per game
 PPG  Points per game

Regular seasonEdit

Year Team GP FG% FT% APG PPG
1947–48 New York 3 .231 .333 .0 2.3
Career 3 .231 .333 .0 2.3

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Vecsey, George (August 11, 2009). "Pioneering Knick Returns to Garden". The New York Times. p. B-9. Retrieved October 28, 2010. He lasted just three games, but is remembered as the first non-Caucasian player in modern professional basketball, three years before African-Americans were included.
  2. ^ "A Nisei in the NBA: The Wat Misaka Story". 2008-08-29. Archived from the original on 2008-11-22. Retrieved 2009-10-17.
  3. ^ a b c d e Wertheim, Jon (2012-02-11). "Decades before Lin's rise, Misaka made history for Asian-Americans". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved February 11, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Nielsen, Chad. (2010). "That’s Just How It Was". Continuum. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  5. ^ "Hall of Fame - Waturu (Wat) Misaka". Weber State University Athletics.
  6. ^ a b c Chappell, Bill (2012-02-15). "Pro Basketball's First Asian-American Player Looks At Lin, And Applauds". NPR. Retrieved February 15, 2012.
  7. ^ Gildea, William (March 27, 1998). "'44 Utes: Destiny's Team; Utah's Last-Second Invite to NCAA Culminated in Title". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 19, 2018. Retrieved January 12, 2013.(subscription required)
  8. ^ a b c Lota, Louinn (May 11, 2000). "Misaka Recalls Time as First NBA Minority". AsianWeek. Associated Press. Archived from the original on January 27, 2013.
  9. ^ Robbins, Liz (January 5, 2005). "Size 7 Sneakers Are Still Hard to Fill". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Kim Fischer (28 January 2013). "First Asian American basketball player meets Jeremy Lin in Utah". KTVX. Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  11. ^ Boyer, Edward J. (March 4, 2000). "A Story of Japanese American Athletes". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 27, 2013.
  12. ^ Sanchez, Jennifer W. (September 10, 2008). "Utahn broke ethnic wall in NBA". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on January 7, 2013.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit