Asian stars in the NBA

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·6 min read
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - MAY 01: Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz drives into Yuta Watanabe #18 of the Toronto Raptors during a game at Vivint Smart Home Arena on May 1, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Jordan Clarkson of the Utah Jazz drives into Yuta Watanabe of the Toronto. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Racial diversity in the National Basketball Association continues to expand over the years, and along with this steady development is the rise in number of Asian athletes and coaches who have carved a niche in the league in recent times.  

Get to know several of these notable sporting personalities that represent Asia in the NBA. 

Jordan Clarkson

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 16: Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz follows through after a shot against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on May 16, 2021 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ben Green/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 16: Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz follows through after a shot against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on May 16, 2021 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Ben Green/Getty Images)

Ever since Jordan Clarkson was drafted by one of the biggest basketball franchises in the Los Angeles Lakers back in 2014, he became one of the most prominent Asian figures in the league. The reason for this is because he carries the blood of a Filipino, and having someone with Philippine heritage to represent a basketball-crazy nation entails a devoted following.  

Make no mistake, though, there is more to Clarkson than just his racial distinction. By all accounts, the 6-foot-4 combo guard has been an instrumental piece for every team he has played on as he provides instant scoring punch off the bench while keeping his teammates engaged with his steady playmaking.  

His value has become more visible in Utah after winning the NBA Sixth of the Year in the 2020-21 season where he averaged 18.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.

Rui Hachimura

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: Rui Hachimura #8 of the Washington Wizards celebrates in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers during Game Four of the Eastern Conference first round series at Capital One Arena on May 31, 2021 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: Rui Hachimura #8 of the Washington Wizards celebrates in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers during Game Four of the Eastern Conference first round series at Capital One Arena on May 31, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

The Land of the Rising Sun also has its rising star in the NBA in Rui Hachimura. 

Hachimura is the first-ever Japanese-born player drafted in the league in the first round when he was taken by Washington as the ninth overall pick in 2019. He has since become an integral cog for the Wizards as his 6-foot-8, sturdily built stature and skillset allow him to command attention in the post. 

In the 2020-21 season where he served as a sophomore, Hachimura proved that he can shine even when he played alongside two high-volume scorers in Bradley Beal and Russel Westbrook, assuring the franchise a reliable big man in its fold and Asia a solid representative for the years to come.

Yuta Watanabe

TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 21: Yuta Watanabe #18 of the Toronto Raptors reacts during the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Amalie Arena on April 21, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 21: Yuta Watanabe #18 of the Toronto Raptors reacts during the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Amalie Arena on April 21, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Before Hachimura entered the professional circuit, the one who carried the flag of Japan in the NBA was Yuta Watanabe, a 6-foot-9 forward who has the physical makings to impact the game on both ends of the floor.   

Watanabe, the first Japanese player to ever receive a Division-I basketball scholarship when he suited up for George Washington, started his career in the league at Memphis before finding his way to Toronto. While many remembers him for being at the receiving end of a nasty poster from Anthony Edwards, the fact remains that he is a promising Asian player that represents the continent to the best of his abilities.

Jalen Green

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 10:  Jalen Green #0 of the Houston Rockets brings the ball up the court against the Detroit Pistons during the 2021 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on August 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Rockets defeated the Pistons 111-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 10: Jalen Green #0 of the Houston Rockets brings the ball up the court against the Detroit Pistons during the 2021 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on August 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Rockets defeated the Pistons 111-91. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

In the buildup to the 2021 NBA Draft, one of the most deepest talent pools in recent memory, Jalen Green, a 6-foot-6 guard who is of Filipino descent, bared that he is excited to represent the Philippines. But as soon as the Houston Rockets drafted him as the No. 2 overall, he was already bound to represent not just the country but also Asia.  

Among all the athletes on this list, Green is the only one who has yet to prove his worth in the league but he is expected to have the highest ceiling. For starters, he is an athletic scorer that has an elite arsenal that is projected to translate well into the professional scene after showcasing his brilliance in the G League, where he put up 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per outing in a 15-game stint with Ignite.

Erik Spoelstra

Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat reaches for the championship trophy as the team celebrates its second consecutive title with a parade on Monday, June 24, 2013, in Miami, Florida. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat reaches for the championship trophy as the team celebrates its second consecutive title with a parade on Monday, June 24, 2013, in Miami, Florida. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

While there is an abundance of talent representing Asia on the court of the NBA, there are also those who do so but in a different capacity, one of whom is seasoned mentor Erik Spoelstra.  

Spoelstra is the head coach of the Miami Heat since 2008. He has led the franchise to two league championships and has already established himself as the winningest coach in Heat history with all the success he has brought to the city over the years. Also, when he engineered the championship run of the Big Three era of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in the early 2010s, he stamped his mark on history as the first Asian-American coach to win an NBA title.  

Through it all, the decorated tactician remained close to his Filipino roots as he honored the country in his every achievement.

Jimmy Alapag

HONG KONG, CHINA - JANUARY 23: Team coach Jimmy Alapag of San Miguel Alab Pilipinas gestures during the ASEAN Basketball League game between Hong Kong Eastern and San Miguel Alab Pilipinas at Southorn Stadium on January 23, 2020 in Hong Kong. (Photo by Yu Chun Christopher Wong/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, CHINA - JANUARY 23: Team coach Jimmy Alapag of San Miguel Alab Pilipinas gestures during the ASEAN Basketball League game between Hong Kong Eastern and San Miguel Alab Pilipinas at Southorn Stadium on January 23, 2020 in Hong Kong. (Photo by Yu Chun Christopher Wong/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

It is no secret to most, if not all enthusiasts of Asian basketball that Jimmy Alapag is a legend in his own right. After all, he once served as the core of Gilas Pilipinas that delivered a spirited campaign in the FIBA World Cup and put the world on notice.  

Years removed from his glorious run as an athlete, Alapag has now decided to leave his mark in the NBA as a coach. He recently held an assistant position to coach Bobby Jackson for Sacramento during the Summer League where the Kings captured the title. This paved the way to his new stint as a coaching staff of the Stockton Kings, the G League affiliate of the said franchise.   

Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.

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