Ogden native Wataru “Wat” Misaka, who became the first person of color to play professional basketball in the NBA, died Wednesday at the age of 95, according to an email sent to the Board of Directors of the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation.
Misaka is perhaps most well-known for becoming the first professional basketball player of color to play in the NBA (when it was called the Basketball Association of America) when he played three games for the New York Knicks in the 1947-48 season.
His life is profiled in a documentary titled, “Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story,” which was screened at Weber State in 2018.
Misaka was born in Ogden, went to Ogden High, Weber State College and then the University of Utah, where was part of the Utes’ 1944 national championship basketball team and 1947 NIT championship team.
In between the two championships, Misaka served in the U.S. Army for two years before returning to Utah for his senior year. Misaka was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Weber State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011.
In 2018, the basketball court at Ogden’s Liberty Park was renamed “Kilowatt Court” in honor of Misaka, who had garnered the nickname “Kilowatt.”
At the time, Ogden City Council member Bart Blair said in a statement about the court renaming: “We were thrilled when we heard this idea to name a basketball court in Mr. Misaka’s honor, and took action to make it a reality. Mr. Misaka will always be an Ogden legend for the barriers he broke as a basketball player, and we hope the court will always stand as a tribute to him.”
At the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City in March, Misaka met Gonzaga University’s Japanese-born forward Rui Hachimura the day before Gonzaga’s first-round matchup against Fairleigh Dickinson.
Speaking to the Standard-Examiner after Gonzaga’s second-round win over Baylor, Hachimura said he was excited to meet Misaka.
“Honestly, actually in Japan we don’t talk about him that much. I think people should know more about him,” Hachimura said at the time.
The news of Misaka’s death was first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.
In a press release issued Thursday afternoon, University of Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement: “We are saddened to learn of the passing of Wat Misaka. He was part of the Utah teams that won national championships in the 1940s, but Wat was bigger than the game of basketball, blazing trails into place nobody of his descent had gone before. He was such a kind and thoughtful man and will be missed by so many. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and Utah fans, who all mourn his passing.”