DVD Review: Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story

December 8, 2010

The story of Wat Misaka is unusual: a Japanese American college basketball darling who captures the imagination of fans at a time when his ethnic group is targeted as the country’s enemy. A “sparkplug,” the 5’7" Misaka broke the racial line as the first person of color to join the nascent NBA, as part of the New York Knicks. This was in 1947. Extensive interviews with Misaka, his brother, sports historians and Misaka’s teammates show an optimistic and popular man. Though the humble Misaka doesn’t admit it, he was a victim of discrimination. After three games and seven points in the NBA, Misaka was cut from the team. Was he let go because of his race or ethnicity? We’ll never truly know, and unfortunately, we’ll never see Misaka’s true potential as a player (Misaka later turned down a chance to play with the Harlem Globetrotters). Only recently, Misaka received the accolades he deserves. The filmmakers’ ample use of archival material — newspapers, audio recordings, video footage of Misaka in his prime — brings the story to life. With recent Harvard graduate Jeremy Lin’s draft into the NBA, it’s nice to pay homage to someone who did it decades ago and to learn from Misaka’s experiences. Subtitled in English and Japanese.

Directed by Bruce Alan Johnson and Christine Toy Johnson


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Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.