The New Wave of Asian-Pacific Influence in Professional Sports

Alex Nakagawa

Nov 25, 2019



There are rare occasions in which I am able to sit in front of a TV to watch a full-length sports game. This time, however, was different.
February 10, 2012. My eyes were glued to the young athlete on the New York Knicks whom rode the maverick-like wave of momentum from previous games to completely break apart the Los Angeles Lakers’ defense — a team that went on to reach the Western Semifinals. This man went on to become the story surrounding the sports world for half of a month. Judging from the obvious context surrounding this article, you’ve probably surmised that this athlete was none other than Jeremy Lin.
This awakening sent the Asian-American community into frenzy across America. Lin became a household name across families in America, even to those who aren’t fans of the sport of basketball. The excitement wasn’t just contained to North America either. Just across the Pacific Ocean, China’s huge basketball community yearned for something (or someone) to cheer for, fresh off the announcement of Houston Rockets superstar Yao Ming’s retirement in 2011. After Yao Ming singlehandedly drove the NBA’s influence to new heights through his career, Lin unsurprisingly inherited a fanbase of over 300 million people seemingly overnight.
I was one of the many kids who competed in Asian American-focused leagues across basketball, soccer, and many of the popular sports played in America through high school. The reactions from “Linsanity” certainly transcended just race, but there was no doubting the impact watching Lin had across all of us who were stigmatized for being somehow “athletically inferior” due to our heritage and the color of our skin.
The achievements earned by Asian Americans and Asians alike have been hard to keep track of. From a pure American entertainment perspective, there is a new sense of pride which resonates harder than it ever has before. This can be seen in the huge following of recently-minted NBA player Rui Hachimura, who was seen across the Las Vegas Summer League with over 60 media reporters from Japan documenting his every step.

However, something harder to notice, is the economic impact that these marketable athletes have across Asian businesses. Most recently, Chinese digital conglomerate Tencent and the NBA agreed to the largest global partnership deal in the history of sports, which is telling of the giant market for historically American-born sports being watched all across the world. Stripped down to its core, these successes are pinned back to the athletes that drive this global fan engagement.

Tennis player Naomi Osaka is the brand ambassador for Nissin Ramen. Golden State's partner is Rakuten, the Japanese equivalent of Tencent in China.<br>

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics fast approaching, and with the additions and revitalizations of a couple sports such as competitive climbing and baseball, we should expect to see brand new faces take the stage.

Ashima Shiraishi (18 y/o) will be set to represent the USA at the Summer Olympic Games in the inaugural "Bouldering" event<br>

I’ve made it my own personal goal this summer (2019) to begin diving into the historical origins of Asian American representation within these sports stories. The first sensible thing to do was to begin accumulating a database of all of these athletes, both retired and active, to ensure that nobody slipped through the cracks. The full — but still under construction — database can be found here.
Whether intended or not, the ambassadors for the Asian American identity within sports rests heavily on their shoulders. But if their performance and accolades should be any indication, there’s no sense in worrying.