Korean Basketball League Ethnic Draft

As we experience the excitement of Jeremy Lin and his meteoric rise in the NBA, I reflected on the limitations of racial diversity in Korea, my mother’s homeland.  It’s always been a reality to me that my opportunities in Korea would be limited due to my biracial status.  Koreans revere the idea of their country being monoethnic.  However, the Korean War (1950-1953) threatened the country’s homogenous status.  Since then, there have been mixed race Koreans in Korea and around the world.

Three years ago, a professional sports association in Korea initiated an action to incorporate biracial Koreans for the first time.  The Korean Basketball League held an “Ethnic” draft.  The 10 professional basketball teams in Korea agreed to allow foreign players with a Korean parent to play in the Korean Basketball Leagues as signed players.  What’s more, the draft allowed these foreign players with Korean ties to not be considered “foreign players”.  (There is a limit of 1 foreign player per team.)  While it was not without controversy, the draft was a huge step toward the acceptance of diversity in Korea.

The inaugural KBL draft for “ethnic Korean players” was held in February of 2009.  To be defined as “ethnic Korean”, the player had to verify that his biological father or mother had previously held Korean citizenship and had since gained foreign citizenship.  A copy of the Korean parent’s family register document or Korean passport had to be presented.

Players selected in the 1st “ethnic Korean” draft

In the 2009 “Ethnic” draft, 5 players were selected ― Tony Akins (전태풍 / KCC Egis), Eric Sandrin (이승준 / Samsung Thunders), Greg Stevenson (문태영 / LG Sakers), Kevin Mitchell (원하준 / KT&G Kites), and Chris Vann (박태양 / KT Sonic Boom) ― and 4 of them were blasian.  The draft was held again in 2010 and 2011.  In 2010, only 1 player was selected ― Jarod Stevenson (문태종 / ET Land Elephants), Greg Stevenson’s older brother.  No players were selected in 2011.

Here’s the rub.  The KBL implemented a limit of 3 years on 1 team for ethnic Koreans.  So, the players that were signed in the 2009 “ethnic Korean” draft are now required to participate in the 2012 draft.  The native Korean players are not subject to this rule.  Different signing rules apply to ethnic versus native Korean players.  The rule was designed to balance the teams and prevent a monopoly on ethnic Koreans, who are often better than the Korean players.  The idea is that having the ethnic Korean players continue on long-term with a single team could give too much of an advantage to one club.

Greg & Jarod Stevenson

Note that, when an ethnic Korean player is drafted, he has to become a Korean citizen.  To sweeten the pot, the Nationality Act was revised in January of 2011 to allow foreigners with “outstanding talents” wishing to acquire Korean citizenship to maintain dual citizenship.  Subsequently, the Korean Basketball League and the Korean Olympic committee have recommended that the government allow ethnic Koreans to play for the Korean national team.

While the KBL benefits from the skills of ethnic Koreans, the association has also been accused of discriminating against ethnic Koreans.  The status of ethnic Koreans has been a point of contention since the initiation of the ethnic draft.  If ethnic Koreans are also Korean citizens and are not considered “foreign players”, why do different rules apply?  Such regulations single out ethnic Koreans and defeat the concept of equal access to the League.

The 2012 KBL Pre-Draft Tryout and draft for “Ethnic Korean Players” will be held on May 7, 2012 in South Korea.  Basketball players who are interested in becoming eligible to play in the KBL must apply by April 25, 2012 (Korea Time).  More information is available on the Korean Basketball League website.

Selected Sources:
* Korean Basketball League, “Rules & Procedures“.
* The Korea Times, “KBL Accused of Discrimination“, January 9, 2012.
* The Korea Herald, “Half Korean Brothers Get Citizenship“, July 21, 2011.
* HalfKorean.com: An online community for mixed-race Koreans, “KBL Ethnic Draft Feature“.

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.