Misaka from the 1948 Utonian
December 21, 1923|
|Listed height||5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)|
|Listed weight||150 lb (68 kg)|
|High school||Ogden (Ogden, Utah)|
Weber State (1941-1943)|
Utah (1943-1944, 1946-1947)
|NBA draft||1947 / Round: -- / Pick: --|
|Selected by the New York Knicks|
|1947-1948||New York Knicks|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Points||7 (2.3 ppg)|
|Stats at Basketball-Reference.com|
Wataru "Wat" Misaka ( ? 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).
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. Misaka subsequently played three games for the New York Knicks during the 1947-1948 season.
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. 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.
After high school, Misaka continued his education at the same time that many other Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps. He attended junior college at Weber College, where his team won two championships. 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.
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.
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. The first African American did not play in the NBA until three years later in 1950. Misaka played in three games and scored seven points in the 1947-1948 season before being cut from the team because, Misaka believes, the Knicks had too many guards. He said he did not feel any discrimination during his time with the Knicks, but he was not close to anyone either.
Misaka declined an offer to play with the Harlem Globetrotters, and he returned home to earn a degree in engineering from Utah. "The salary for a rookie and the salary for starting engineer weren't much different", Misaka recalled. He then joined a company in Salt Lake City as an engineer. He and his wife, Kate, have two children.
Misaka was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. 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. 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.
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.