I heart professional sports. I love baseball, basketball, and football. I’m mostly obsessed with my local teams (Dodgers, Lakers, USC, and now Chargers). To prove it, I spend way too much time on fantasy sports. (On a side note, I’m the commissioner of a dynasty football league and we’re looking for a new owner so if interested, hit me up). That’s why when I tried to figure out what I should write about, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t done a top five Asian American athletes article for 8Asians before.
Figuring out a top five was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. First, I’ll be honest, the list was going to be a top ten. However, I realized right away that finding ten Asian American athletes I wanted to talk about was going to be a lot harder than I originally thought. Five seemed way more manageable.
Then, I had to decide which sports to include. Because I’m most knowledge about the three major sports in the United States, I decided to limit it to those—so baseball, basketball, and football. This means that I don’t mention the Olympians (Kristi Yamaguchi, Apolo Anton Ohno, Michelle Kwan, Sammy Lee, and others that I’m probably missing), golfers (Tiger Woods, Michelle Wie), or a tennis star (Michael Chang). My apologies to all of them. They are all amazing athletes and some played formative roles in my life. You can’t find a Japanese American who was around in the 1990s who didn’t swell with pride watching Kristi Yamaguchi in the Olympics or an Asian American kid from the late 80s, who didn’t play tennis because of Michael Chang.
And finally, this list does not include any Asian Asians (in other words, people who were born in Asia and do not consider themselves Asian American). This means that stars such as Hideo Nomo, Chan Ho Park, Yao Ming, Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish or countless others are not eligible.
Because the list was limited to my top five, there were some names I had to leave off. Here are some of the other athletes that I considered for this list that deserve to be mentioned: Major League Baseball players Ron Darling, Don Wakamatsu, Kurt Suzuki, Travis Ishikawa, NBA and Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson, and NFL football players Hines Ward, Tedy Bruschi, Troy Polamalu, Rey Maualuga, Edward Wang. Also, it should be mentioned that on principle, I cannot include any San Francisco Giant. So Tim Lincecum is not eligible. Sorry Giant fans—your team sucks this year by the way.
Without further ado, here is my list of top five Asian American athletes.
#5: DAT NGUYEN
Dat was a star linebacker for Texas A&M and played five years for the Dallas Cowboys. He has the tenth most career tackles in Dallas history. He was the first Vietnamese American to play in the NFL.
Why I chose Dat? Despite being a USC Trojans fan, I remember what it meant to me to see Dat Nguyen on the field at Texas and then later Dallas. Everyone said he was too small and slow to play in the NFL, but he never listened to his critics. He took pride in being the baddest linebacker on any field he played on.
#4: KENICHI ZENIMURA
Kenichi is known as the “Father of Japanese American baseball.” Among many accomplishments, he was responsible for bringing Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on a barnstorming tour of Japan, which is credited for baseball’s popularity in the country. But most importantly, he was instrumental in creating a baseball league in the Gila Riva Interment camp.
Why did I chose Kenichi? Unlike the other athletes on this list, Kenichi’s role was more of an ambassador than a player. He was the main force behind a Japanese American baseball league in the deserts of an internment camp that made life just a little more bearable and fun for those incarcerated.
#3: WATARU “WAT” MISAKA
Wat was the first non-white player and first Asian American to play in the NBA.
Why did I chose Wat? Despite having only played three games in the NBA, he is a legend in my book. He broke the NBA’s color barrier the same year that Jackie Robinson did it in baseball. But the thing that people forget about Wat, he was actually a hell of a basketball player. At five feet and seven inches, he led his college basketball team to an NCAA championship in 1944.
#2: TIANA BAUL SEAU JR. aka: JUNIOR SEAU
Junior is a hall of fame linebacker who played nineteen years in the NFL for the San Diego Charger, Miami Dolphins, and the New England Patriots.
Why I chose Junior? Junior was a stud. First round draft pick. Defense player of the year. Multiple Pro-Bowls. Linebacker of the Year. Super Bowl Champion. Hall of famer. And of course USC alumni. But what I remember about him was the 1994 championship game where he played with a pinched nerve in his neck and somehow still managed to get 16 tackles.
#1 Jeremy Lin
Jeremy is an NBA guard who has played for the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Hornets and Brooklyn Nets. He has averaged twelve points and four and a half assists in his career.
Why I chose Jeremy? This was a rather obvious choice. All I have to say is Linsanity. Most people remember him because of those few weeks in New York. But the reality is that he’s had a very successful career. And frankly, he’s the guy every young Asian American basketball player who has ever played the game wants to be.
Follow me on Twitter at @ksakai1