Asians & Basketball

“I feel like Asians in general don’t get the respect that we may deserve whether it comes to sports, basketball, or whatever it might be.” – Jeremy Shu-How Lin

As the sports world marvels at the standout performance on the basketball court of Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks, I wondered if there had been players of Asian descent hidden within the ranks of the NBA, specifically blasians, who would easily blend into the predominantly African American sports league. There is no doubt that Lin very likely experienced racial profiling. An Asian in the NBA is a rare find, and stereotypes about athletic prowess based on race do flourish in the testosterone-filled world of sports, but what about half-Asian players? They were probably able to move beyond those limitations by fitting into the monoracial ideals held in sports and acquire a career in the NBA.

Wataru Misaka

Wataru Misaka (Japanese) became both the 1st Asian and the 1st non-Caucasian person to play for the Basketball Association of America (now known as the National Basketball Association), when he played for the New York Knicks during the 1947–48 season.  Misaka broke the color barrier in basketball as Jackie Robinson was doing the same in baseball.  After Misaka was cut in 1948, there wasn’t another Asian player until 2 blasian players came along in the 1970s and 1980s – Corey Gaines and Raymond Townsend.

Corey Gaines

Corey Yasuto (泰斗) Gaines was born to a half-Japanese mother and an African American father. In 5 seasons, he played for 4 different NBA – the New Jersey Nets (1988–89), Philadelphia 76ers (1989–90, 1994–95), Denver Nuggets (1990–91), and New York Knicks (1993–94). Gaines also played basketball in Israel and Europe, as well as for the Japanese Basketball League’s Japan Energy (1997–98). He became the head coach of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury in 2007 and led the team to their second WNBA championship. He has been the general manager of the Mercury since 2011. When discussing the Mercury’s raising funds for victims of the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Gaines said, “I’ve been connected with Japan since 1997. That was the first time I went to Japan to play…. I stayed at a Japanese house with a host family in Tokyo. I didn’t speak Japanese. They didn’t speak English. I was young, but I kept going to Japan ever since.”

Raymond Townsend

Raymond Townsend’s mother was the former Virginia Marella, a Filipina from Balayan, Batangas, while his father, Ray Sr., was African American. He was selected in the 1978 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. He retired from the NBA in 1982 as a member of the Indiana Pacers. He was the first Filipino-American to play in the NBA. He also played in Italy during the 1984–85 season. In 2008, Townsend returned to NBA courts as a packager of Filipino heritage events.

In a January 2011 Wall Street Journal article, Raymond Townsend is quoted as saying, “When I played, people thought I was just one of the lighter-skinned NBA players with an Afro. No one knew I was Filipino.”

There’s my answer.

Selected Sources:
* Palo Alto Online, First Person: A Conversation with Jeremy Lin“, December 15, 2011.
The Arizona Republic, “Phoenix Mercury’s Corey Gaines proves to be player’s coach”, May 23, 2011.
* The Wall Street Journal, NBA Game Promises to Be a Turkey? Call In the Turks – or the Filipinos“, January 19, 2011.

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