Wataru “Wat” Misaka, the player who broke the NBA’s color barrier way back in 1947, has passed away at the age of 95.
Misaka was a Utah Native of Japanese descent who played at the University of Utah and helped the basketball team win their 1944 NCAA championship and 1947 NIT championship. But before he played ball in college, he served in the U.S. Army after being drafted to serve in World War II and even rose to the rank of staff sergeant in Hiroshima. The University would confirm Misaka’s death in a statement.
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Wat Misaka. He was a part of the Utah teams that won national championships in the 1940s, but Wat was bigger than the game of basketball, blazing trails into places nobody of his descent had gone before. He was such a kind and thoughtful man and will be missed by so many,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement.
After college, he’d get drafted 61st overall in the seventh round by the New York Knicks in Basketball Association of America (BAA) — which would eventually be renamed the NBA. Standing at just 5’7,” Misaka would only play three games and score seven points for the Knicks, but the barriers he broke mean much more than any stat sheet could show. After getting cut he’d turn down a role with the Harlem Globetrotters to continue his studies and get his engineering degree.
Misaka’s role in the league would lead to African-Americans beginning to make their way into the BBA just three years later.
He is survived by a daughter and a son, according to the Yahoo Sports.