Wat Misaka

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Wat Misaka
Misaka in college with Utah in 1946–47
Personal information
Born(1923-12-21)December 21, 1923
Ogden, Utah, U.S.
DiedNovember 20, 2019(2019-11-20) (aged 95)
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
Listed height5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)
Listed weight150 lb (68 kg)
Career information
High schoolOgden (Ogden, Utah)
NBA draft1947: 7th round, 61st overall pick
Selected by the New York Knicks
PositionPoint guard
Career history
1947New York Knicks
Career highlights and awards
Stats Edit this at Wikidata at NBA.com
Stats Edit this at Wikidata at Basketball-Reference.com
Wat Misaka
Japanese name
Kanji三阪 亙

Wataru Misaka (December 21, 1923 – November 20, 2019) was an American professional basketball player. A 5-foot-7-inch (1.70 m) point guard of Japanese descent, he broke a color barrier in professional basketball[1][2] by being 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).[3][4][5]

Misaka played college basketball for the Utah Utes and led the team to 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.[6][7] Misaka subsequently played three games for the New York Knicks during the 1947–48 season.

Early life[edit]

Misaka was born a Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) in Ogden, Utah, to Tatsuyo and Fusaichi Misaka.[8] He grew up poor with his two younger brothers. His family lived in the basement of his father's barber shop between a bar and a pawn shop in a bad area on 25th Street, which was also rife with prostitution.[9][10] He recalled the neighborhood as being a "ghetto".[11]

Misaka was raised in an era of "virtual apartheid", wrote University of Utah magazine Continuum.[9] Excluded from extracurricular activities, Nisei children played in their own baseball and basketball leagues.[9][12] Misaka was not served in restaurants because of his ethnicity, and neighbors would cross the street to steer clear of him.[2] Despite this, Misaka still participated in sports. Misaka attended Ogden High School, where he led the basketball team to a state championship title in 1940 and a regional championship title in 1941.[13]

College career[edit]

After high school, Misaka continued his education at the same time that many other Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps.[14] He attended Weber College, where he helped lead its basketball team to two championships. Misaka was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1942 junior college postseason tournament and, in 1943, he was named the Weber College athlete of the year.[15]

Misaka subsequently enrolled at the University of Utah and joined their Utes 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 National Invitation Tournament (NIT). The team chose the latter because it was more prestigious at the time, and meant a trip to New York City.[a] The team lost to Kentucky in the first round, but was given a chance to play in the NCAA tournament due to Arkansas's withdrawal because of a team accident. The team took advantage of this and won the tournament, winning the championship game over Dartmouth 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.[16] Misaka was later drafted for World War II and rose to the rank of staff sergeant. After two years, he returned to the University of Utah and rejoined the team. The team was in position to win their second national tournament in four years after being invited to the eight team NIT Tournament in New York. Utah's narrow victories in the first two rounds put them in the finals where they defeated Kentucky 49–45 to capture the 1947 NIT championship title. Misaka held Wildcats All-American guard Ralph Beard to a single point.[9][17]

On January 22, 2022, Misaka's number 20 jersey was honored by the Utah Utes.[18]

Professional career[edit]

Misaka was selected by the New York Knicks in the 1947 BAA Draft. He debuted as the first non-Caucasian player in the BAA (later known as the NBA) in 1947, the same year that Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line.[19][20] The first African American did not play in the NBA until 1950.[19] There were no press conferences or interviews to commemorate Misaka's first game.[21] "It wasn't a big thing," he said. "Nobody cared."[21]

Misaka played in three games and scored seven points in the 1947–48 season before being cut from the team mid-season.[19] He believed he was cut because the Knicks had too many guards.[22][23][7] Misaka said he did not feel any discrimination from teammates or opposing players during his time with the Knicks,[17] but he did not mingle with everyone.[20] During training camp, he was only close with future Hall-of-Famer Carl Braun.[17]

Later years[edit]

Misaka declined an offer to play with the Harlem Globetrotters, and he returned home to earn a degree in engineering from Utah.[19] "The salary for a rookie and the salary for starting engineer weren't much different", Misaka recalled.[7] He then joined a company in Salt Lake City as an electrical engineer.[9][7][14] He and his wife, Kate, had two children.[7] Misaka died at the age of 95 on November 20, 2019, in Salt Lake City.[17]

Misaka went on to pursue bowling after his basketball career ended, notably hitting a near-perfect 299 game at the age of 80.[24]


Misaka was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.[9] 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.[20][25] A documentary film, Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story by Bruce Alan Johnson and Christine Toy Johnson, premiered in 2008. It recounts Misaka's playing career and his status as the first non-white player in the NBA.[14][21][26]

In 1997 Misaka was inducted into the Japanese American National Bowling Hall of Fame.[24]

BAA career statistics[edit]

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

Regular season[edit]

Year Team GP FG% FT% APG PPG
1947–48 New York 3 .231 .333 .0 2.3
Career[27] 3 .231 .333 .0 2.3

See also[edit]


  1. ^ New York City was a venue for both the NCAA tournament and NIT in 1944, but because of the regional nature of the NCAA event, only the four teams in the East Regional were guaranteed games in New York, specifically at the third Madison Square Garden. The West Regional was held in Kansas City, Missouri, with the winner advancing to the championship game at the Garden. In that era, all NIT games were played in the Garden. (The modern Garden is the fourth venue of that name.)


  1. ^ Wataru Misaka, who broke pro basketball's color barrier, dies at 95. Yahoo Sports. November 21, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Brockell, Gillian (June 15, 2019). "He broke pro basketball's color barrier. Now Jeremy Lin joins him in the history books". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  3. ^ Vecsey, George (February 15, 2012). "The Old Guard Welcomes the New Guard". The New York Times. p. B10. Retrieved November 22, 2019. For a long time, he was remembered, if at all, as the first Asian-American player — the first nonwhite player, really — in the N.B.A.
  4. ^ Zwerling, Jared (January 17, 2012). "'Kilowatt' Misaka still beaming at 88". ESPN.com. Retrieved November 22, 2019. Misaka is Japanese-American, and when he was drafted in 1947 -- after helping lead the Utes to the 1944 NCAA and 1947 NIT championships -- he became not only the first Asian to enter the NBA (then called the Basketball Association of America), but the first non-white player in the league. He came before Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper and Sweetwater Clifton broke the color barrier for black players.
  5. ^ Saffir, Douglas (February 11, 2012). "Jeremy Lin Receives Encouragement From Ex-Knicks Guard Wat Misaka, First Asian American in NBA". NESN.com. Retrieved November 22, 2019. Wataru Misaka, the first non-white NBA player and like Lin an Asian American, sent the Chinese-American point guard a letter of encouragement.
  6. ^ "A Nisei in the NBA: The Wat Misaka Story". Hokubei.com. August 29, 2008. Archived from the original on November 22, 2008. Retrieved October 17, 2009.
  7. ^ a b c d e Wertheim, Jon (February 11, 2012). "Decades before Lin's rise, Misaka made history for Asian-Americans". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved November 23, 2019.
  8. ^ Odeven, Ed (December 28, 2018). "Hoop pioneer Wat Misaka reflects on breaking barriers in an incredible life". The Japan Times. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Nielsen, Chad. (2010). "That’s Just How It Was". Continuum. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  10. ^ Ferrin, Tres; Ferrin, Josh (2012). Blitz Kids. Gibbs Smith. pp. 20–22. ISBN 9781423624950. Retrieved November 23, 2019.
  11. ^ Powers, Ian. "Utah's Blitz Kids: NCAA's original Cinderella story". The New York Daily News. Archived from the original on February 24, 2021. Retrieved November 23, 2019.
  12. ^ Ferrin 2012, p. 24.
  13. ^ Lee, Jonathan H. X. (2017). Japanese Americans: The History and Culture of a People. ABC-CLIO. p. 363. ISBN 9781440841903. Retrieved November 23, 2019.
  14. ^ a b c Chappell, Bill (February 15, 2012). "Pro Basketball's First Asian-American Player Looks At Lin, And Applauds". NPR. Retrieved February 15, 2012.
  15. ^ "Hall of Fame - Waturu (Wat) Misaka". Weber State University Athletics.
  16. ^ Gildea, William (March 27, 1998). "'44 Utes: Destiny's Team". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  17. ^ a b c d Goldstein, Richard (November 21, 2019). "Wat Misaka, First Nonwhite in Modern Pro Basketball, Dies at 95". The New York Times. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  18. ^ "University of Utah honors Wat Misaka with jersey ceremony". Nichi Bei. Retrieved February 5, 2022.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ a b c Lota, Louinn (May 11, 2000). "Misaka Recalls Time as First NBA Minority". AsianWeek. Associated Press. Archived from the original on July 15, 2009.
  21. ^ a b c Sanchez, Jennifer W. (September 10, 2008). "Utahn broke ethnic wall in NBA". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on October 1, 2012.
  22. ^ Robbins, Liz (January 5, 2005). "Size 7 Sneakers Are Still Hard to Fill". The New York Times.
  23. ^ Kim Fischer (January 28, 2013). "First Asian American basketball player meets Jeremy Lin in Utah". KTVX. Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  24. ^ a b Smith, Harrison (November 28, 2019). "Wat Misaka, who broke pro basketball's color barrier, dies at 95". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved October 18, 2023.
  25. ^ Boyer, Edward J. (March 4, 2000). "A Story of Japanese American Athletes". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 7, 2013.
  26. ^ Utah Basketball Legend Wat Misaka Passes Away at Age 95. University of Utah Athletics. November 21, 2019.
  27. ^ "Wat Misaka Stats". Basketball Reference. Retrieved November 22, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]