Utah Basketball To Honor Wat Misaka With Jersey Retirement

Feb 20, 2020, 12:05 PM | Updated: Jan 22, 2022, 8:20 pm
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)...
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – University of Utah Director of Athletics Mark Harlan announced that the school will honor the late Wataru “Wat” Misaka with a jersey retirement next season.

Harlan made the announcement while Misaka was recognized by the Utah State Legislature.

On Thursday, Harlan made the announcement on the floor of the Utah State Senate when Misaka’s resolution was introduced by Senator Jani Iwamoto. They made note of Misaka’s significant contributions as a citizen of Utah and his considerable historical achievements.

“Wat Misaka’s legacy is that of a champion,” Harlan said. “He won championships as a student at Utah and was a champion in this country, whose dignity shined through as a trailblazer and pioneer. Those who perform at a championship level at Utah are greatly valued, but also for what they accomplish in their lives beyond graduation. Wat’s achievements are extraordinary, and the profound impact he made leaves a legacy of great pride for his family, for the state of Utah and all who benefited from the opportunities he created.”

Misaka led Utah basketball to the two National Championships in 1944 and 1947. He became the first non-Caucasian player in the Basketball Association of America (predecessor to the NBA) in 1947.

Being inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, Misaka was known as the Jackie Robinson of basketball. He was also inducted into the University of Utah’s Crimson Club Hall of Fame in 2011.

Misaka was a point guard for the Utes on the 1944 National Championship team and the 1947 squad that took home the 1947 NIT Championship.

During those two seasons, he was drafted into the military and rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Known for his tenacious defense, Misaka guided Utah to a National Championship in 1944 and a 22-4 overall record. During that run, Utah lost to Kentucky in the more prestigious NIT Tournament. After the defeat, the Utes were asked to take the place of Arkansas in the eight-team NCAA Tournament.

Utah started the tournament with a 45-35 win over Missouri and took down Iowa State 40-31. Misaka combined for 14 points in those two games. When Utah returned to New York City, Misaka impressed the New Yorkers with his play in the NIT Tournament in the previous week.

In the National Championship game, Misaka scored four points in Utah’s 42-40 overtime win over Dartmouth at Madison Square Garden.

Misaka returned from his service during World War II in 1947 and led the Utes to the 1947 NIT Title, getting revenge over the Kentucky Wildcats with a 49-45 victory. The Wildcats were led by head coach Adolph Rupp. The Utes finished the season with a 19-5 overall record and a 10-2 mark in the Skyline Conference.

After a successful college career with the Utes, Misaka was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1947. He was the first person of color to play in the NBA. Back then, the league was called the Basketball Association of America. Misaka played in three games during the 1947-48 season and scored seven points.

Misaka returned to Utah to begin a career as an electrical engineer by using his bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah.

In August of 2018 in Ogden, Utah – Misaka’s hometown – honored him with the “Kilowatt Court” at Liberty Park.

Misaka was also the Terasaki Bugokan’s guest of honor in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo two months earlier. He was mentioned by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 when he spoke at the opening ceremony to mark the formation of the President’s Advisory Commission and White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

In 2008, Bruce Johnson and Christine Johnson directed, “Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story.”

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