Ogden, UT

Wat Misaka Was Honored By The University of Utah

S. F. Mori

He played basketball for the U in the 1940s

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Wat Misaka and U of U Teammates on JumbotronImage is author's

Although he has been recognized as the first non-white player to be drafted by the National Basketball Association (NBA) in what was then the Basketball Association of America (BAA), Wat Misaka did not have his jersey retired at the University of Utah until a game on January 22, 2022. The New York Knicks drafted Misaka in 1947.

The University of Utah men's basketball program had a halftime ceremony to officially recognize and honor Misaka. His No. 20 jersey is now hanging in the rafters at the Jon M. Huntsman Center next to that of his teammate and close personal friend, Arnie Ferrin.

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Wat Misaka's Jersey at the University of UtahImage is author's

Utah State Senator, Jani Iwamoto, was instrumental in getting the recognition for Misaka. The ceremony took place during the University of Utah's basketball game with the University of Southern California (USC). Misaka's son, Hank Misaka, and daughter, Nancy Umemura, were on hand to accept the honor along with other family members and friends. Nancy gave poignant remarks remembering their father and his legacy.

Misaka was an American hero who deserves to have an important place in American history. He also served in the U.S. Army during World War II where he helped in the occupation. He overcame racism and hardship to be an outstanding American citizen who was very patriotic.

Although he was a humble man who did not tout his own accomplishments, Misaka was a man of greatness. Born in Ogden, Utah, on December 21, 1923, of Japanese immigrant parents, he was the oldest of three boys. His father was a barber who died when the boys were young. His mother became a barber to provide for her family after her husband passed away.

Misaka attended Ogden High School where he was a leader on the basketball team which won a state championship title in 1940 and a regional championship title in 1941. He then attended Weber Junior College in Ogden, Utah, where he became a star on their basketball team when they won two championships. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1942 junior college postseason tournament and was named the Weber Junior College Athlete of the Year in 1943. Weber State University has established a scholarship in his name.

After transferring to the University of Utah, Misaka became a star on their basketball team. They finished the 1943–44 season with an 18–3 record. They were invited to both the NCAA Tournament and the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). Misaka said that the people of New York were basically kind to him. As a 5 foot 7 guard, he stated: “They cheered for the deprived and the unfortunates.”

After his service in the army and returning to school at the University of Utah, Misaka again joined the basketball team. They won their second national championship in four years and were invited to the NIT championship tournament in New York City where they won. He was selected by the New York Knicks in the 1947 draft. He joined the Knicks team but was cut after six regular season games. He returned to the University of Utah to complete his engineering degree.

Christine Toy Johnson, a singer, actress, and playwright in New York City became Intrigued by Misaka's story. She and her husband, Bruce Alan Johnson, a photographer, graphic artist, actor, and filmmaker, produced a documentary film about Misaka called TRANSCENDING: The Wat Misaka Story.

This latest University of Utah honor is well deserving for a humble and great man.

[Source: Information from personal knowledge as well as the Movie, TRANSCENDING, The Wat Misaka Story, and the book, The Japanese American Story as Told Through a Collection of Speeches and Articles, www.thejapaneseamericanstory.com]

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I am a retired President/CEO of civil rights organizations. I have been a Mayor and California State Assemblyman as well as a College Instructor of Economics. I have also been an entrepreneur and international business consultant. I will be sharing articles mostly about life, politics, racism, travel, health, and relationships.

Salt Lake City, UT
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