[Marxism] Knicks Pioneer Roots for the Underdog in Lin

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 14 12:58:10 MST 2012

NY Times February 14, 2012
Knicks Pioneer Roots for the Underdog in Lin

Wat Misaka does not see anything of himself in the lithe Knicks 
point guard on the television.

“He’s much bigger than me,” Misaka said. “He’s 6-foot-3.”

Misaka, 88, was 5-foot-7 when he played three games for the Knicks 
in November 1947. For a long time he was remembered, if at all, as 
the first Asian-American player — the first nonwhite player, 
really — in the N.B.A.

Now that model has been upgraded, considerably. Jeremy Lin, whose 
family emigrated from Taiwan, has just enjoyed two spectacular 
weeks with Misaka’s old team, coming from nowhere to captivate, 
well, the whole world.

Misaka has been watching at home, with very few regrets, and 
enough good memories of his own. He and his wife, Katie Inoway 
Misaka, lived through the time of internment camps for 
Japanese-Americans during World War II. Now Misaka can watch from 
afar as another young man has his day.

“I heard of him in college,” Misaka said the other night, 
recalling Lin’s days at Harvard. “Some acquaintances of mine told 
me when he was in Oakland. I wrote him and I said: ‘You don’t know 
me. Things may look bad but hang in there.’ ”

Misaka sent the note to the Warriors’ office but did not hear back 
from Lin, who washed out in Oakland. Recently a sportswriter told 
Misaka that Lin had indeed received the note, appreciated it, and 
planned to get back to him one of these days. Things have been 
moving fast for Lin.

Everybody knows the story. The Knicks, short on bodies, brought in 
Lin for a look. They were thinking of cutting him but instead he 
had had five consecutive games of 20 points or more, going into 
Tuesday night’s game in Toronto — on Asian heritage night, of all 

Misaka will not say he roots for Lin because they are both of 
Asian heritage. He roots for Lin because he moves the ball and 
gets his teammates involved in the flow.

“He’s got the speed and he’s going through a hot streak in 
shooting,” Misaka said. “When they pick him up, he passes to his 
teammates. They’re buying into his philosophy.”

Can Lin keep it up? “That’s the $64 question,” Misaka said.

Wat Misaka never got to answer that question. He was kept under 
wraps at the University of Utah during the war, being brought off 
the bench to avoid inflaming wartime crowds. In one game in 
Madison Square Garden Misaka so befuddled Ralph Beard, the 
Kentucky all-American, that Adolph Rupp had to sit Beard down. In 
1947 Utah beat Kentucky to win the National Invitation Tournament, 
which was bigger than the N.C.A.A. tournament in those days.

“When we won the N.I.T. it was like being world champions,” Misaka 
said Monday night.

In 2009 Bruce Alan Johnson and Christine Toy Johnson, married 
filmmakers from New York, issued a documentary about Misaka, 
including images of Utah players running the weave offense and 
leaving opponents stumbling in their wake.

“We didn’t have the pick-and-roll like Lin does,” Misaka said. “He 
makes it happen. They would have called a foul for setting a pick 
like that. Now it’s legal.”

The documentary concentrated on Misaka’s struggles as an American 
citizen during World War II, and raised the question of whether 
Misaka got a fair chance with the Knicks. Misaka recalled the 
Knicks trimmed the squad to 12, and he thought he had the team 
made, but after 3 games, 7 points and no assists, he was cut so 
they could pick up a taller player.

When prodded about the possibility that some teams in the young 
N.B.A. did not want a Japanese-American player so soon after World 
War II, he has maintained that his demotion had more to do with 
his modest size.

“I’d like to go back and ask them,” Misaka said the other night, 
permitting himself that bit of skepticism.

He said he never found himself openly rooting for another 
Asian-American player to come along. In fact, Raymond Townsend, a 
Filipino-American, played 154 games between 1978 and 1982, and Rex 
Walters, half Japanese, played 335 games from 1993 through 2000. 
But nobody has ever set off the nation, the world, the way Jeremy 
Lin has.

On Feb. 6 one of Misaka’s buddies called him in Bountiful, Utah, 
and told him to watch Lin playing for the Knicks in the Garden.

“He’s tearing up the Jazz,” Misaka said. Nothing against his 
hometown team but Lin wears No. 17 for the Knicks, and Misaka wore 
No. 15 for them in a different eon. The joke goes: they retired 
Misaka’s number. Actually, it was Dick McGuire’s number and later 
Earl Monroe’s number.

Misaka says he roots for No. 17, as a teammate of sorts, and also 
as an underdog, but not as the next great Asian hope.

“The last few years, there have been players from Brazil, France, 
Spain,” Misaka said. “Japan and China hardly knew what basketball 
was back then.”

With China trying to upgrade its game, Yao Ming recently displayed 
the size, skill and heart to be an All-Star in the N.B.A. before 
his body broke down.

As Lin continued his stunning streak, Misaka caught “bits and 
pieces” of games, but he and his wife help with grandchildren who 
live nearby.

Misaka receives plenty of attention in Utah, with a book and soon 
a video honoring that 1947 championship team. A retired engineer, 
he is close to his Utah teammate Arnie Ferrin, who played three 
years in the N.B.A. Misaka had his time. Now he roots for Jeremy 
Lin. Why wouldn’t he? They’re both Knicks.

E-mail: geovec at nytimes.com

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