George Vecsey — Knicks Pioneer Roots for Underdog in Lin

“He’s much bigger than me,” Misaka said. “He’s 6 foot 3.”

Misaka, 88, was 5 feet 7 inches when for the Knicks in November 1947. For a long time, he was remembered, if at all, as — the first nonwhite player, really — in the N.B.A.

That model has been upgraded, considerably. , whose family emigrated from Taiwan, has had with Misaka’s old team — coming from nowhere to score more than 20 points in six straight games, including the 3-pointer that beat Toronto, 90-87, on Tuesday night.

Misaka has been watching at home, with few regrets, and enough good memories. He and his wife, Katie Inoway Misaka, lived through for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Now Misaka can watch from afar as another young man has his day.

“I heard of him in college,” Misaka said the other night, recalling Lin’s days at Harvard. “Some acquaintances of mine told me when he was in Oakland. I wrote him and I said: ‘You don’t know me. Things may look bad, but hang in there.’ ”

Misaka sent the note to the Warriors’ office but did not hear back from Lin, who washed out with Golden State. Recently, a sportswriter told Misaka that Lin had indeed received the note, appreciated it and planned to get back to him one of these days. Things have been moving fast for Lin.

Everybody knows the story. The Knicks, short on bodies, brought in Lin for a look. They were thinking of cutting him; instead, he had led the Knicks to six straight victories, including Tuesday night in Toronto — of all things.

Misaka will not say he roots for Lin because they are both of Asian heritage. He roots for Lin because he moves the ball and gets his teammates involved in the flow.

“He’s got the speed and he’s going through a hot streak in shooting,” Misaka said. “When they pick him up, he passes to his teammates. They’re buying into his philosophy.”

Can Lin keep it up? “That’s the $64 question,” Misaka said.

Wat Misaka never got to answer that question. He was kept under wraps at the University of Utah during the war, being taken off the bench to avoid inflaming wartime crowds. In one game at Madison Square Garden, Misaka so befuddled , the Kentucky all-American, that Adolph Rupp had to sit Beard down. In 1947, Utah beat Kentucky to win the National Invitation Tournament, which was bigger than the N.C.A.A. tournament in those days.

“When we won the N.I.T., it was like being world champions,” Misaka said Monday night.

In 2009, Bruce Alan Johnson and Christine Toy Johnson, married filmmakers from New York, about Misaka, including images of Utah players and leaving opponents stumbling in their wake.

“We didn’t have the pick-and-roll like Lin does,” Misaka said. “He makes it happen. They would have called a foul for setting a pick like that. Now it’s legal.”

The documentary concentrated on Misaka’s struggles as an American citizen during World War II, and raised the question of whether Misaka had a fair chance with the Knicks. Misaka recalled the Knicks trimmed the squad to 12, and he thought he had the team made, but after 3 games, 7 points and no assists, he was cut so they could pick up a taller player.

When prodded about the possibility that some teams in the young N.B.A. did not want a Japanese-American player so soon after World War II, he has maintained that his demotion had more to do with his modest size.

“I’d like to go back and ask them,” Misaka said the other night, permitting himself that bit of skepticism.

He said he never found himself openly rooting for another Asian-American player to come along. In fact, Raymond Townsend, , played 154 games ; and Rex Walters, , played 335 games But nobody has ever set off the nation, the world, the way Jeremy Lin has.

On Feb. 6, one of Misaka’s buddies called him in Bountiful, Utah, and told him to watch at the Garden.

“He’s tearing up the Jazz,” Misaka said. Nothing against his hometown team, but Lin wears No. 17 for the Knicks, and Misaka wore No. 15 for them in a different eon. The joke goes: they retired Misaka’s number. Actually, it was Dick McGuire’s number and later Earl Monroe’s number.

Misaka says he roots for No. 17, as a teammate of sorts, and also as an underdog, but not as the next great Asian hope.

“The last few years, there have been players from Brazil, France, Spain,” Misaka said. “Japan and China hardly knew what basketball was back then.”

With China , Yao Ming recently displayed the size, skill and heart to be an All-Star in the N.B.A. before his body broke down.

As Lin continued his stunning streak, Misaka caught “bits and pieces” of games, but he and his wife help with grandchildren who live nearby.

Misaka receives plenty of attention in Utah, with a book and soon a video honoring that 1947 championship team. A retired engineer, he is close to his Utah teammate Arnie Ferrin, who in the N.B.A. Misaka had his time. Now he roots for Jeremy Lin. Why wouldn’t he? They’re both Knicks.


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