18 Asian NBA Players That Have Made It To The NBA

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways:

  • Asian NBA players have been making an impact in the league for decades. Wataru Misaka, the first Asian NBA player, paved the way for others to follow.
  • Yao Ming is arguably the best player from Asia and brought great visibility to the league in China. Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue, and Zhou Qi have followed in his footsteps to make an impact in the league.
  • Jordan Clarkson became the first Filipino-American player since Raymond Townsend to see NBA minutes and went on to win the Sixth Man of the Year award. Rui Hachimura, the first Japanese player to get drafted, has quickly become a notable player in the league.

Asian NBA Players: A Look at 18 Players Who Made an Impact

Growing up as an asian basketball fan, I never really saw myself in the players on my favorite NBA teams. It wasn’t until Wataru Misaka became the first Asian NBA player in 1947 that my community had a player to call our own. Since then, 17 more players of Asian descent have made their way onto NBA rosters, each with their own unique story and impact on the league.

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at 18 Asian NBA players who have made a significant impact on the game. From the trailblazing Misaka to the current rising stars like Rui Hachimura and Jordan Clarkson, we’ll explore their contributions to the league and the barriers they’ve broken as Asian athletes.

1. Wataru Misaka: the First Asian NBA Player

The NBA has been home to several Asian players who have made their mark, including Wataru Misaka, the first Asian player to feature in the league. Misaka, a Japanese-American Athlete from Utah, played for the New York Knicks in 1947 as part of its championship-winning team that year.

Misaka’s entry into professional basketball marked a significant moment in sports history, paving the way for other Asian athletes to join the league.

Misaka’s achievement went beyond just being the first of his kind. Despite facing racial discrimination and prejudice from fans and fellow players alike, Misaka remained resolute in pushing through barriers to make a name for himself and pave the way for future generations.

Misaka’s contribution to basketball cannot be overstated or underestimated – he made a lasting impact on not only Asian representation in the sport but also on diversity in general. His success as an NBA player inspired others of all races and backgrounds to pursue their dreams and work towards breaking down stereotypes and prejudices that had previously prevented them from realizing their potential.

Pro Tip: To achieve your goals like Wataru Misaka did, be confident in yourself despite any setbacks or obstacles you may face along the way. Believe in yourself and your abilities, keep working hard, and never give up on your dreams.

From breaking barriers to making history, Raymond Townsend paved the way for Filipino-American players in the NBA.

2. Raymond Townsend: the First Filipino-American NBA Player

Raymond Townsend, an iconic Filipino-American, holds the honor of being the first Asian player in the NBA. He played basketball for Forney High School and attended UCLA before being selected 22nd overall by the Golden State Warriors in 1978.

In his four-year NBA career, Townsend played for top teams, including the Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Los Angeles Lakers. While he may not have earned any significant individual accolades during his time in the league, Townsend’s success opened doors and inspired future generations of Asian-American basketball players.

Rony Seikaly broke down barriers as one of the early international players in the NBA, proving that you don’t have to be American to dominate on the court.

3. Rony Seikaly: One of the Early International Players to Make an Impact

Rony Seikaly was an early international player who contributed significantly to the NBA. He was one of the few international players to make a significant impact in his initial years playing for Miami Heat. Seikaly was a versatile center-forward, known for his excellent rebounding skills and shot-blocking ability, which made him an asset to any team.

Seikaly played with Miami Heat from 1988 to 1994 and led them to their first playoff appearance in 1992. With impressive statistics of 16.6 points per game and just over ten rebounds per game during his NBA career, He is credited as one of the greatest players in Miami Heat’s history.

A unique detail about Seikaly is that Although he was born and raised in Lebanon; he attended Syracuse University, where he played college basketball. In his senior year, he helped lead the Orangemen (now Syracuse Orange) to a second-place finish in the NCAA tournament and won MVP honors.

It is interesting to note that after retiring from basketball, Seikaly embarked on another career as a DJ/music producer.

4. Rex Walters: Japanese-American Player Who Played for 7 Seasons

A notable Japanese-American player in the NBA, Rex Walters had a seven-season career in the league. Known for his three-point shooting ability, Walters played for five different teams during his NBA tenure.

He was drafted by the New Jersey Nets in 1993 and spent four seasons with the team before moving on to play for the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Detroit Pistons. After retiring from playing professionally, Walters went on to coach various collegiate basketball programs.

It is worth noting that despite being a skilled player, Walters encountered some racial discrimination during his time in the league. In an interview with Sports Illustrated in 2014, he spoke about instances of racism he faced both on and off the court.

5. Mengke Bateer: First Chinese Player to Win an NBA Championship

The NBA saw its first-ever Chinese player win a championship in the early 2000s with Mengke Bateer’s victory. Being the first Chinese player to do so, his achievement paved the way for other players of East Asian descent.

As an international player for the San Antonio Spurs team, Bateer played as a power forward and center position during his time in America.

He proved to be a dominant defensive force in China before joining the NBA and continued to demonstrate his skill with impressive rebounds, assists and blocked shots on his new team. With championships being hard won and reserved only for a chosen elite, Mengke Bateer’s victory was truly exceptional.

It is worth noting that despite being the first Chinese player to win an NBA championship, Mengke Bateer’s journey into professional basketball did not have smooth beginnings. In fact, he struggled during his initial stint in North America but was able to secure a spot on various teams through sheer grit and determination.

6. Wang ZhiZhi: First Chinese Player to Get Drafted in the NBA

The NBA witnessed a defining moment when the first Chinese player, Wang ZhiZhi, was drafted. As the pioneer of his country to enter the league, he broke barriers and became a symbol of diversity and inclusivity in the NBA.

Being selected by Dallas Mavericks in 1999 at pick 36, Wang’s talent and skill set brought attention to China’s basketball scene. His position as a power forward/center rendered him versatile and adaptive in gameplay.

Notably, prior to his selection into the NBA, Wang played with Bayi Rockets- an army team in China; he represented his country during international events notably at the 1998 FIBA World Championship where China finished eighth.

Wang’s career kickstarted making him one of Asia’s influential players in the league: he signed a contract with LA Clippers and Miami Heat following two seasons with Mavericks. He took part in thirty-three playoffs games before returning to play for Bayi rockets again.

Wang Zhizhi ushered Chinese basketball onto another level by being an exceptional role model. As a trailblazer willing risked everything to make history – that turned out excellent – establishing representation opportunities for future generations among Asian players globally.

Yuta Tabuse showed the world that a 5’9 point guard from Japan can play with the big boys in the NBA.

7. Yuta Tabuse: First Full Japanese NBA Player

The NBA has seen a handful of Asian players, but Yuta Tabuse holds a unique distinction as the first full Japanese player. Tabuse played for the Phoenix Suns during the 2004-2005 season and appeared in four games, which included scoring five points in his debut against the Atlanta Hawks.

Tabuse’s journey to the NBA had been challenging as he went undrafted in 2003 before earning a spot on the Suns’ summer league team. Despite being cut from the roster that year, Tabuse persisted and returned to play with their summer league team once again and successfully landed on their regular-season roster in 2004.

It was not easy for Tabuse during his short stint in the NBA as he faced several obstacles such as communication barriers with teammates, coaches, and opponents due to his limited English skills. However, Tabuse managed to earn respect from his fellow players for his determination and work ethic.

Although Tabuse did not have a lengthy tenure with an NBA team, he did blaze a trail for future Japanese players like Rui Hachimura to follow. As only the second Japanese player drafted by an NBA team (Washington Wizards), Hachimura looks up to Tabuse as an inspiration for his own career.

Ha Seung-Jin may have been the first South Korean player to make it to the NBA, but he probably wishes he played in the KBL instead.

8. Ha Seung-Jin: First South Korean Player to Get Drafted and Play in the NBA

The NBA’s first Korean player to get drafted and play in the league was Ha Seung-Jin. He made history by being the first South Korean to achieve this feat. Ha entered the NBA draft after playing for Yonsei University in Seoul, where he was spotted by NBA scouts.

He was selected 46th overall in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers but played only sparingly during his three seasons on the team due to injuries and limited playing time.

Ha Seung-Jin’s journey to the NBA was a significant milestone for Asian players, especially those from Korea, who previously had no representation in power basketball leagues like the NBA. His acceptance into an international sporting league paved the way for future generations of young players with dreams of showcasing their talent at the highest level.

It is worth noting that Ha Seung-Jin’s entry into professional basketball did not come without challenges. From language barriers to cultural differences, he had to navigate through various obstacles before attaining his ultimate goal of playing on an NBA team. However, his persistence, hard work and dedication saw him through these challenges.

9. Yao Ming: Arguably the Best NBA Player from Asia

One of Asia’s most celebrated NBA players, Yao Ming’s remarkable basketball career is often regarded as one of the best in history.

Standing tall at 7’6″, Ming dominated on both ends of the court and was an All-Star eight times during his nine-year stint in the NBA, including five consecutive seasons from 2003 to 2008.

His outstanding contributions to the sport made him a global icon and helped pave the way for other Asian players to follow in his footsteps.

Ming’s impressive statistics speak volumes about his skill – he holds multiple records and ranks high in various categories such as blocks, rebounds, scoring, and field goal percentage. However, his impact went far beyond just numbers. He helped generate interest in basketball throughout China and other parts of Asia, thus leaving an indelible mark on the sport worldwide.

One unique aspect that set Ming apart from other players was his combination of size and mobility. Standing at a towering height, he was able to move freely on the court with exceptional agility and coordination. Additionally, his immaculate playmaking abilities were unparalleled among other giants in basketball history.

To emulate some of Yao Ming’s success within your own sporting goals, consider incorporating techniques focused on developing better ball handling skills while maintaining physical strengths throughout workout routines. The work you put into improving your game will surely pay dividends when it comes time for competition or the next big opportunity presents itself.

10. Yi Jianlian: Dubbed as the Next Yao Ming

Dubbed as the Next Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian made a prominent mark in the NBA. With his remarkable height of 7 feet and 0.5 inches, he became a dominant presence on both ends of the court. He was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007 and played for several NBA teams, including the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Yi Jianlian set himself apart from other Asian NBA players with his exceptional athletic ability and aggressive playing style. Earning comparisons to Yao Ming due to his physical attributes, skills, and potential, he garnered a significant fan following throughout his career.

Additionally, during his stint in China’s basketball association league, Yi Jianlian’s extraordinary performance led him to earn MVP honors twice in 2016 and 2017 consecutively.

Although Yi Jianlian did not reach Yao Ming’s level of success in terms of achievements or impact on the sport as a whole, he remains one of Asia’s top basketball players to date.

It is worth mentioning that Yi Jianlian contributed significantly towards nurturing Chinese Basketball at an elite level alongside Yao Ming through their joint efforts which helped basketball gain popularity within China.

11. Sun Yue: Second Asian and Chinese NBA Player to Win an NBA Championship

Sun Yue, the second Asian and Chinese player to win an NBA championship, made history in 2009 when he played with the LA Lakers. Yue’s performance on the court was limited, but his role as part of the team helped lead them to victory. He remains a notable player in the league’s history.

With only a limited number of Asian players making it to the NBA, Sun Yue’s achievement stands out in particular. As one of only two Asian players ever to win a championship, Yue has proven himself to be a valuable asset to any team. Despite some critics citing his lack of playing time as indicative of his ability, Yue demonstrated effective teamwork within the Lakers and contributed significantly off-court.

Yue’s impact on basketball extends beyond his professional achievements; he has paved the way for future Chinese basketball players hoping to find success in America. By achieving such significant accomplishments as shortly after entering the league, Sun Yue inspired a new generation of young fans and athletes alike.

Therefore, aspiring Asian basketball players should look up to Sun Yue for inspiration and seek guidance from successful coaches who can help them learn new skills or improve existing ones that will propel them forward, as they aim for similar heights in their career.

Staying focused at all times is essential for succeeding at this level where pressure can be intense while continually striving towards quality improvement will yield long-term benefits that may lead you down the path towards becoming another successful Asian basketball player in today’s NBA scene.

12. Hamed Haddadi: First Iranian Player to Play in the NBA

The NBA has had only a handful of players from Iran, but one particular player who made history is Hamed Haddadi. As the first Iranian player to enter the league, Haddadi paved the way for future generations of aspiring players from Iran. Despite being undersized for his position, at 7’2″ tall, he was a defensive force and excelled in the paint.

During his time in the NBA, Haddadi played for multiple teams including the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns. Though he wasn’t a star player, he did make notable contributions to his teams with his strong defensive skills and consistent performance.

Haddadi’s journey to becoming an NBA player was not easy. He faced many challenges in his early career due to lack of resources and support in his home country. However, his talent helped him attain success even amidst such precarious circumstances.

Despite retiring from the NBA in 2013, Haddadi remains a significant figure in Iranian basketball history. His contributions have inspired many young players to pursue their dreams and break barriers within this highly competitive environment.

13. Jeremy Lin: Linsanity and Winning an NBA Championship

In 2012, Jeremy Lin, an undrafted Asian-American point guard, took the world by storm with his unprecedented performance leading the New York Knicks. His Linsanity run garnered global attention and made him a cultural icon overnight. However, it was not until ten years later, as a bench player for the Toronto Raptors, that he won his first NBA Championship ring.

Throughout his career, Lin faced racial discrimination and had to fight for recognition as an Asian-American in a predominantly African American league. In recent years, he has been vocal about combating anti-Asian hate and promoting greater representation for minorities.

A significant aspect of Lin’s success lies in his versatility as a player and ability to fit into various team environments. His title-winning season saw him contribute both on and off-court while serving as a veteran mentor to younger players.

For aspiring athletes of Asian descent or other minorities struggling to find their place in their respective industries, Lin’s story serves as a testament to perseverance and paving one’s path despite challenges along the way.

14. Zhou Qi: First Chinese Player in the NBA in Years

The emergence of Zhou Qi marked the return of China to the NBA after a long hiatus. The 7’1 center was the first Chinese player to enter the NBA in years, revitalizing the hope for Asian players. With his defensive skills and wingspan, he brought value to every team he played for.

Zhou Qi’s debut in the NBA league was spectacular, although his playing time had been limited; his potential is vast and being observed by high-level teams. Zhou also helped his team win a game in style through a breathtaking block that went viral around social media platforms. Surely, Zhou Qi has become a significant figure in the NBA’s Asian players’ world.

Interestingly, Zhou’s success may pave the way for more Chinese talent to enter into international basketball leagues. Emulating Zhou’s approach to improving his agility would be beneficial as it led to overcome any challenges thrown at him. Yuanzhe Li (Chinese journalist) suggested changing defense tactics when paired with experienced defenders like Harden, providing easier blocks and more steals.

In summary, basketball fans from all around the world are delighted with Zhou Qi’s breakthrough into mainstream basketball as he becomes increasingly prominent amongst Chinese fans globally. With his recent performances indicating consistency in skillset, we could witness an influx of players from Asia on Western shores soon enough.

15. Yuta Watanabe: First Full Japanese Player Since Yuta Tabuse and Active NBA Player with Asian Descent

Yuta Watanabe, an active NBA player with Asian descent, is the first full Japanese basketball player since Yuta Tabuse. Despite being undrafted in 2018, he has secured a spot in the roster of Memphis Grizzlies. Although he played only seven games during his rookie season, he was able to show his versatility and potential as a two-way player for the team.

Furthermore, Watanabe’s journey to the NBA is inspiring. He grew up in Japan and represented his country in international tournaments before playing college basketball at George Washington University. During his college career, he was named Atlantic 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year Twice and helped lead his team to an NIT championship.

In addition, Watanabe’s work ethic and dedication have earned him respect from his coaches and teammates. He has been known to go above and beyond in practice sessions and often stays after practice to work on his game.

16. Rui Hachimura: First Japanese Player to Get Drafted and Fourth-Highest-Drafted Asian Player of All Time

Rui Hachimura marked history as the first Japanese basketball player to be drafted in the NBA and the fourth-highest-drafted Asian player of all time. With his excellent skills on the court, he proved himself worthy of being picked by one of the strongest teams in the league. His passion, focus, and dedication set him apart from others in his field.

Hachimura’s journey to success wasn’t easy. Growing up in Japan, basketball was not a popular sport. However, his love for it pushed him to pursue it relentlessly until he landed a spot on Gonzaga University’s team. He showed exceptional talent throughout the seasons and eventually caught the eyes of NBA scouts.

Interestingly, Hachimura didn’t start playing basketball until high school when he was introduced to it by an American friend. From then on, he dedicated most of his days practicing on outdoor courts with friends until he became one of Japan’s top college players.

Hachimura prides himself on breaking barriers and representing his country in such a prestigious arena. As he continues to make waves in the NBA, fans eagerly anticipate seeing what he has in store next for not only himself but also for other aspiring Japanese basketball players.

17. Jordan Clarkson: First Filipino-American Since Raymond Townsend to See NBA Minutes

The NBA has seen a few notable Asian players over the years. Among them, Jordan Clarkson of Filipino-American descent has made history. Being the first Filipino-American since Raymond Townsend to see NBA minutes and winning the sixth man of the year, this achievement places him in an elite category.

Clarkson started his career with the Los Angeles Lakers before moving on to Cleveland Cavaliers. He played a vital role in Cleveland’s success, which led to his sixth Man of The Year award.

Interestingly, Clarkson had previously represented the Philippines in FIBA competitions before joining the NBA. This gives fans from both countries roots to celebrate his success apart from witnessing basketball excellence.

Jordan Clarkson’s path towards success offers hope and inspiration for young Filipino- Americans aspiring for success in professional sports or other fields.


Asian players may be few in number, but they have managed to leave a lasting impact on the NBA. Despite being a minority group, Asian players have earned a reputation for their exceptional skills and contribution to the sport.

This can be attributed to their talent, hard work, and dedication. They have proven that their size or background is not a hindrance to success in the NBA. As a result, these players have gained recognition and admiration among fans and sports enthusiasts around the world.

Moreover, Asian players have brought unique cultural perspectives to the sport, which has enriched its diversity. They have introduced new training and playing styles to the NBA and have facilitated cross-cultural collaborations within the league. This has opened up opportunities for other minorities to take up sports and succeed in them. The NBA has recognized the value of bringing in players from different cultures and has taken steps to improve diversity within the league.

Despite facing challenges such as language barriers, cultural differences, and lack of representation, Asian players have pushed through and made their presence in the NBA felt. They have defied odds and proven that hard work and determination can pave the way for success. Their contributions have not only made an impact on the sport but have also inspired a generation of aspiring players.

FAQs about Asian Nba Players

Who was the first Asian NBA player?

Wataru Misaka was the first Asian NBA player. After leading the University of Utah to a NCAA championship, Misaka would get drafted by the New York Knicks. The Japanese-American played in three games and averaged 2.3 points per game.

Which Asian-American NBA player won the Most Improved Player of the Year award?

Rony Seikaly, who was born to Lebanese parents, won the Most Improved Player of the Year award in 1990. He carved out an 11-year NBA career, making him one of the earliest international players to make an impact in the NBA.

Who was the first Chinese player to win an NBA championship?

Mengke Bateer was the first Chinese player to win an NBA championship, thanks to Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Aside from the Spurs, he also played for the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors.

Who is the only Asian basketball player to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame?

Yao Ming is the only Asian basketball player to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He is widely regarded as one of the best NBA players from Asia and was a dominant force during his playing days.

Who is the only Asian and Chinese NBA player to win an NBA championship?

Sun Yue became the second Asian and Chinese NBA player to win an NBA championship in 2009, thanks to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. While China often sent big men to the NBA, Sun was a forward.

Who was the first Filipino-American since Raymond Townsend to see minutes on the NBA floor?

Jordan Clarkson became the first Filipino-American since Raymond Townsend to see minutes on the NBA floor. His scoring prowess has turned him into one of the main players of the Utah Jazz. In his NBA career, Clarkson has made the All-Rookie team and won the Sixth Man of the Year in 2021.

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