Asian Menswear Spotlight Series: Wat Misaka


Wat (Wataru) Misaka, born on December 21, 1923, was a Japanese-American professional basketball player, famous for being the first non-white player and the first Asian player in the modern history of professional basketball. A 5’7” point guard, Misaka was renowned for being a defensive specialist with a high arcing hook shot.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
Born in Ogden, Utah to Japanese immigrants, Misaka grew up in poverty with his two younger brothers, living out of the basement of his father’s barber shop. In an era of racism and discrimination, Misaka faced hardships from a young age, being excluded from extra-curricular activities at school based on his ethnicity. His father passed away when he was 15, leading him to work on a relative’s farm to support his family.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣

⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣A gifted athlete, Misaka still participated in sports (basketball, football, baseball, and track) at Ogden High School despite his ethnicity, and led the basketball team to championships in 1940 and 1941. 
While many other Japanese were being forced into internment camps during World War 2, Misaka played basketball at Weber College, winning two championships and numerous awards including MVP and Athlete of the year.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣He enrolled at the University of Utah in 1942, and successfully helped the Utes basketball team win the NCAA tournament over Dartmouth in overtime. On his return from the tournament, he was drafted into the US Army, where he served in Military Intelligence rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Returning to Utah after the war, Misaka’s team won the 1947 NIT basketball championship.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣

⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣Misaka entered the BAA (Basketball Association of America – a precursor to the modern NBA) draft later that year, and was selected with the 61st pick in the 7th round by the New York Knicks. He played in 3 games, scoring seven points, before he was cut from the team. While his professional accomplishments were limited, his legacy remains as the first non-white player to be drafted in professional basketball.

⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣After basketball, Misaka returned to University, and worked in Salt Lake City as an electrical engineer.