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Japanese-American's Stint as New York Knick Broke NBA's Color Barrier

Aired June 19, 2000 - 2:55 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And in the NBA, careers can be short, unlike the players, but 72 hours? One man's brief time on the pro court was ground-breaking nonetheless. Here's CNN's Anne McDermott.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNE MCDERMOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 1947 and everybody was aware that Jackie Robinson was breaking baseball's color barrier. That very same year, Wat Misaka was breaking basketball's color barrier, but hardly anyone noticed. Maybe that's because Misaka, a Japanese-American from Salt Lake City, who signed a contract with the New York Knicks, only played three games.

WAT MISAKA, FORMER NEW YORK KNICK: Just one afternoon, Ned Irish called me into his office and told me that he had some bad news to give me.

MCDERMOTT: He's not sure why he lost his $3,000-a-year job. He said he didn't feel discriminated against. Maybe the fact that he was only 5 foot 7 had something to do with it. But he shrugged if off.

In those days, pro basketball was nothing compared to college hoops, and he had plenty of great memories from his years with the University of Utah. In 1947, the school became the equivalent of national champs, with some help from Misaka at the foul line.

MISAKA: There was less than two minutes left in the game and the score was tied, so, you know, it was getting kind of choke time. We won that game by one point.

MCDERMOTT: After his pro career fizzled, he did get another offer to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. But Misaka declined the opportunity to break another barrier and decided to go back to school.

MISAKA: Back in those days, getting your degree was a lot more important relative to playing basketball than it is now.

MCDERMOTT: But it's the basketball career of the retired engineer that's getting attention now, thanks to a new exhibit at the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles. And Misaka is proud of that, but doesn't dwell in the past. The game of today is just too interesting.

MISAKA; A lot more flamboyant, and you know, fun to watch.

MCDERMOTT: He admires Shaquille O'Neal and occasionally gets off the kind of shot that the Shaq of old was once famous for.

Anne McDermott, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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