Promise to prominence for Asian athletes
It has been almost 60 years since the New York Knicks selected the University of Utah's Wat Misaka in the first round of the 1947 draft, making him the NBA's first player of Asian descent. My dad was the Knicks' coach back then, and liked what he'd seen of the Japanese-American, a 5-foot-7 guard, at Utah. There was no big reaction to Misaka's signing, nor was there much reaction when he was let go only three games into the Knicks' season. He had scored seven points.Three years later, in 1950, my dad signed Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton to be one of the first African-Americans in the NBA. When that happened, I looked out my bedroom window to see people picketing and my Dad's image swinging from a tree. I heard my dad being called a "n----- lover." As we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month this May, I've been thinking about those disparate reactions. The institution of slavery and the slaughter of Native Americans probably top the list, but the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II is right up there among the most racist and antidemocratic episodes in our nation's history. It puzzles me that Misaka starred at Utah and was the Knicks' first draft pick in the same decade that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, in the same decade that we interned thousands of Japanese-Americans and in the same decade that we dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese cities. Very few noticed that Misaka was a Japanese-American in the NBA. But many seemed to care -- enough to spread hate -- when Clifton and other African-Americans joined the league. Race and racism are anything but rational.
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