New York Times


Wat Misaka's story brings some to tears but leaves audience inspired
by Casey Kirk, published on May 10, 2009

Wat In Garden

It was a packed house at the screening of "Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story" on Friday night with almost 200 people in attendance at the Sacramento Asian Sports Foundation in Elk Grove.

The audience was visibly moved during the documentary, which tells the story of Watura "Wat" Misaka, the first ever person of color to be drafted into the NBA in 1947. Many tears were wiped away as filmmakers Bruce and Christine Johnson showed Misaka's story of overcoming racial tension through the use of interviews, actual footage from his basketball games, and commentary from friends, family, and big sports names.

New York sportscaster Spencer Ross, Wat's brother Tatsumi, and Paul Osaki, Exective Director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. are just some of the many interviewed who make an appearance in the documentary.

Although grainy and in black and white, Misaka's lightning-fast footwork and dribbling stand out in clips from his star performances during games. Teammate Arnie Ferrin, from the University of Utah, attested to Wat's acceptance by other team members, saying "He didn't know he was any different and we didn't know he was any different either."

While it seemed obvious to the audience that Misaka was treated unfairly because of his race, Misaka's general attitude toward any racism during the interviews is one of dismissal. He chocks up the name-calling and jeers he encountered at while at away games to mostly athletic rivalry. However, one particularly emotional scene might suggest that deep down he feels otherwise.

Misaka was released from the New York Knicks in 1947 and some suspect his race played a role. When asked about this during an interview, he quickly says that he doesn't believe his race was involved. He then becomes overcome with emotion and silent, possibly not believing his own answer to the difficult question.

Despite the heart-wrenching story, there were also plenty of smiles to be seen and laughter echoed through the crowd during one scene that told of a time Misaka went "missing" before a big game. His teammates and coached searched high and low, forgoing their much-needed sleep, only to find him sound asleep in his room.

At the end of the documentary, the Johnsons took the stage with Misaka to answer any questions the audience had for them. Misaka was more than happy to talk and was humbled by everyone that showed up.

By the sounds of the applause roaring through the auditorium for Misaka it was clear that, although a few decades late, Misaka is finally getting the recognition he always deserved.

The documentary will continue to be screened in various cities throughout the year. For more information about the film, visit watmisaka.com.