Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum, released the following statement on Nov. 22.
On behalf of the trustees, governors, staff, volunteers, and supporters of the Japanese American National Museum, I want extend our condolences and deepest sympathies to the family of Wataru “Wat” Misaka, who passed away this week in Utah at the age of 95.
In 2000, JANM’s relationship with Wat crystalized as he was one of the profiled sports stars in our groundbreaking exhibition “More Than a Game: Sport in the Japanese American Community.” Only five-foot, seven inches tall, Wat led his University of Utah basketball team to the NCAA championship in 1944 and the New York Invitational Tournament title in 1947. He then was drafted by the New York Knickerbockers and played in three games.
Our exhibition highlighted Wat’s unique accomplishments along with the fact that he became the first person of color to play professionally in the league that would become the National Basketball Association (NBA). After 2000, the NBA acknowledged Wat’s historic role and the Knicks would later honor him as a pioneer.
The son of Japanese immigrants, Wat showed that given a fair opportunity, he could reach the highest levels of his sport through hard work, unselfishness, and shrewd play. Yet he was always modest and self-effacing. Today with thousands of Japanese Americans playing organized community basketball, he is a role model for the greater Nikkei community.
JANM recognized Wat Misaka at our annual Gala Dinner in 2014. His lasting legacy will be as an American sports pioneer, a legacy that we at the Japanese American National Museum will maintain and share.