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Category Best Of Both Worlds Asian American Players In The Nba 201412180054

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NBA – A look at Asian-American players from over the years


Jeremy Lin (credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Basketball writer Lorenzo Gahol looks at players with Asian roots who grew up in the United States and played in the NBA…

Jeremy Lin

The most popular Asian-American basketball player at present is Jeremy Lin, a Chinese-American who was born in Torrance and raised in Palo Alto, California. In a classic rags to riches tale, Lin emerged from obscurity during the 2011–12 season when he had a series of breakthrough performances while playing for the New York Knicks. His highlights that season include a career-high 38 points against the Los Angeles Lakers – his present team.

Lin, an undrafted player out of Harvard University, finished the 2011-12 campaign with 14.6 points – a far cry from his 2.6 ppg averages with Golden State the previous season.

Now considered an important player with a huge fan base, Lin took his act to Houston the following season and maintained his double-digit scoring averages in his two seasons there. In 2014-15, Lin signed with the Lakers.

Lin’s success story spawned several books and a documentary film directed by Evan Jackson Leong.

Wataru Misaka 

Wataru “Wat” Misaka is the first player of Asian origin to play in the NBA. Born in Utah to Japanese immigrants, the pint-sized guard had a brief stint with the New York Knicks in 1947 when the league was still called Basketball Association of America (BAA). He played three games for the Knicks, averaging 2.3 points before being cut by the club.

Before being drafted by the Knicks, Misaka was a star athlete at the University of Utah whom he helped win the NCAA title in 1944 and NIT crown three years later. He also served in the US Army during World War II and later became an engineer.

Rex Walters

Rex Walters enjoyed a stellar career at the University of Kansas before taking his act to the NBA where he played seven seasons. The sweetshooting guard, whose mother is Japanese, averaged 4.6 points and 1.7 assists in 335 games for the New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat. Walters enjoyed his best season in 1996-97 where he put up 6.8 points in 59 games for the Sixers.

Rex Walters  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
After his NBA stint, Walters played in the Spanish League and American Basketball Association. He ventured into coaching following his retirement and is currently the head coach of the University of San Francisco.

Raymond Townsend

Born in San Jose, California, to an American father and Filipino mother from Batangas province, Raymond Townsend played three seasons in the NBA.

The prized shooting guard spent his first two seasons with the Golden State Warriors, who selected him 22nd overall in the 1978 Draft. Townsend played in the Continental Basketball Association during the 1980-81 season but returned to the NBA the following year this time for the Indiana Pacers.

In 154 NBA games, Townsend averaged 4.8 points and 1.4 assists. He played in Italy after his NBA stint before retiring from the sport.

Before joining the NBA, Townsend suited up for the University of California-Los Angeles varsity under legendary head coach John Wooden and helped the Bruins win the 1975 NCAA Division I title.

Townsend was the first and only player with Filipino roots to play in the NBA until Jordan Clarkson matched the feat by making it to the regular season roster of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014.

Corey Gaines

Corey Gaines played for three different teams in his first three seasons in the NBA from 1988 to 1991. The Los Angeles-born guard, whose mother is Japanese, saw action for New Jersey, Philadelphia and Denver before spending the next two seasons in the Continental Basketball Association. Gaines returned to the NBA in 1993-94 as a member of the New York Knicks and signed with the 76ers the following season in what would be his final stint in the big league. His NBA averages are 3.1 points and 3.1 assists in 80 games.

 Corey Gaines (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Gaines, who played college ball at UCLA and Loyola Marymount, later became a head coach in the Women’s National Basketball Association and steered the Phoenix Mercury to the title in 2009.

Robert Swift

Standing 7-foot-1, Robert Swift jumped straight to the NBA from high school in 2004 after being selected 12th overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in that year’s draft. The towering center, who has Japanese roots, struggled in his rookie season in the big league but bounced back in his second year where he averaged career-highs 6.4 points and 5.6 rebounds.

Robert Swift #31  (Otto Greule/Getty Images)
There were high hopes for Swift entering his third year but he suffered an ACL injury just before the start of the 2006-07 season. He made a brief comeback the following season but sustained another knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year. Swift played 26 more games for the Oklahoma City Thunder before being waived. He spent time in the minor leagues and also played in Japan after his NBA stint.

Swift’s life is marred by off court troubles and just recently he was charged with illegal possession of a firearm after police raided the home of an alleged heroin and meth dealer in Seattle where he was staying.

Special Mention

Ricardo Brown

Dubbed by the Philippine press as the Quick Brown Fox for his prolific moves on the hardcourt, Ricardo Brown was selected by the Houston Rockets in the third round (59th overall) of the 1979 NBA Draft following an impressive career at Pepperdine University. After failing to land a contract with the Rockets, Brown packed his bags to the Philippines – his mother’s home country – where he played for the Northern Consolidated Cement-sponsored national team under head coach Ron Jacobs.

Brown took the Philippine Basketball Association by storm, winning the Rookie of the Year in 1983 and the Most Valuable Player award two years later while playing for Great Taste Coffee. He also played for San Miguel Beer whom he helped win a Grand Slam (winning three conferences in a season) in 1989.

After retiring from the sport in 1990, Brown returned to the United States to pursue a career in teaching. He is now a principal in a middle school in California.

In 2000 during the PBA’s Silver Anniversary celebration, Brown was named one of the league’s 25 Greatest Players. The Chicago-born guard was also inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in 2009.

Norman Ow Young Jang

Decades before Jeremy Lin, an Asian-American player named Norman OwYoung Jang was already making waves in the Bay Area. The pint-sized guard, who arrived in the United States from China as a nine-year-old boy, was the star player of Francisco Middle School and later Washington High School in San Francisco.

Jang was offered a scholarship by San Jose State University but turned it down as he needed to work to support his young wife and baby. Jang instead honed his basketball skills with the San Francisco Saints, a local Chinese club that often played teams from the Army, Navy and Air Force in exhibition games. Jang was so impressive during his stint with the Saints that the San Francisco Warriors invited him to their training camp in 1964.  He was among the last players cut by the NBA club.

In 2014, the 75-year-old Jang was inducted into the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame.

Willie Wong

Like Norman Jang, William “Woo Woo” Wong was a legend in San Francisco’s Chinatown basketball scene in the 1940s. The 5-foot-5 guard was a star player at Poly and Lowell high schools and suited up for the University of San Francisco (USF) Dons under legendary coach Pete Newell. Widely considered as one of the best Chinese-American basketball players of all-time, Wong also played for the SF Saints. Wong, who passed away on September 5, 2021 at the age of 79, was posthumously inducted into the USF Hall of Fame in 2007. The Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground in Chinatown was named in his honor.

Sim Bhullar

Sim Bhullar made history in 2014 when he became the first player of Indian origin to sign with an NBA club. The 7-foot-5 behemoth from Ontario, Canada, inked a Summer League deal with the Sacramento Kings. He was later waived by the Kings and signed with the Reno Bighorns of the NBA D-League.

Sim Bhullar ( Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Bhullar, whose parents hail from Punjab, played two seasons at New Mexico State University where he averaged 10.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in the NCAA last season. The prized giant is a two-time Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Tournament MVP and led the Aggies to back-to-back WAC titles and NCAA Tournament appearances.

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Leigh Copson
Leigh is, without a doubt, the most over worked writer here at Crunch Sports. A statistician at heart, she can reel off Superbowl plays from decades ago. If we need a deep-dive into the numbers in any sport, we call Leigh first.

Leigh is, without a doubt, the most over worked writer here at Crunch Sports. A statistician at heart, she can reel off Superbowl plays from decades ago. If we need a deep-dive into the numbers in any sport, we call Leigh first.

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