Asian NBA Players


Joshua Lee

The NBA has had limited representations of players of Asian descent. Most were cut after a few games, others played for 3 years.

The first Asian NBA player was Wataru Misaka. He broke the color barrier in 1947, the same year Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. He was a New York Knick, but never really saw the floor, playing only 3 NBA games total. 

The NBA did not see a player of Asian descent for 30 more years until Raymond Townsend began his NBA career. Townsend, who is a Filipino-American, played for the Warriors and Pacers. He was only seen as a role player during his career, averaging 4.8 points per game in 13.1 minutes per game.  

Rex Walters is Japanese-American former player who played for the Nets, 76ers and the Heat. 

Mengke Bateer is a Chinese player who played 3 years in the NBA with the Nuggets, Spurs and Raptors. 

Wang Zhizhi played for the Mavericks, Clippers and Heat.

Yao Ming was the first Asian player chosen first in the NBA draft, selected by the Rockets in 2002. Standing at 7’6” Ming is an eight-time NBA All Star who spent his entire NBA career playing for the Houston Rockets. He averaged 19 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game, 1.6 assists per game, and 1.9 blocks per game and is regarded as one of the greatest centers in the history of the league. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame not only for his play, but also for being the bridge between China and the NBA. 

Yuta Tabuse, the first Japanese player since Wataru Misaka to play in the NBA, played for the Phoenix Suns for ___ years. 

Ha Seung-jin is the first and only South Korean to have played in the NBA as of today. He played for the Portland Trail Blazers from 2004 to 2006. 

Yi Jianlian is a Chinese former NBA player who played for the Bucks, Nets, Wizards and Mavericks. He is one of the more successful players of Asian heritage mainly because he stayed in the league for more than 5 years. 

Sun Yue played point guard at 6’9” but he was never really a force on the floor. He played only a few games for the Lakers and was waived afterwards. 

Jeremy Lin went undrafted in 2010 and started his career with the Golden State Warriors but was waived shortly after. Lin would take a chance with the New York Knicks. After the Knicks’ star player Carmelo Anthony went down with an injury, Lin set the league on fire by scoring 25 points in a Knicks win. However, Linsanity didn’t last long. After the return of Carmelo Anthony and owner James Dolan’s tendencies to make questionable decisions, Lin would sign with the Houston Rockets where his role began to diminish. He spent time bouncing around the league including one year with the Los Angeles Lakers and late legend Kobe Bryant. Afterwards he signed a deal with the Charlotte Hornets, but opted out of his final year of the contract to play with the Brooklyn Nets. In 2017, in the season opener against the Indiana Pacers, Lin suffered a season ending patellar tendon rupture and missed the entire season save for the one game. One year later he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks to provide veteran leadership to the young team. He was waived midway through the season and subsequently signed with the Toronto Raptors, where he won his first NBA championship despite falling out of the rotation. He was out of the league soon after and signed with the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association. Today, he plays for the Santa Cruz Warriors in the NBA G-League. 

Jordan Clarkson is a Filipino-American who started his career with the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2018, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the trade that sent former All-Star Isaiah Thomas to the Lakers. In 2019, he was traded to the Utah Jazz. He is currently averaging 17.6 PPG, above league average. 

Yuta Watanabe is a Japanese player who went undrafted in 2018 and was signed by the Memphis Grizzlies on a two-way contract. Thus he was under minute restriction. In the NBA G-League, he was named the Midseason All NBA G League for the Western Conference. This season, Watanabe is on a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors. 

Rui Hachimura is a Japanese player drafted in 2019 by the Washington Wizards after his stellar play in college as a Gonzaga Bulldog. He was named to the All Rookie Second team at the NBA All Star Game after averaging 13.5 PPG. This season, he is averaging 13.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 2.3 APG.