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Decades Before Lin, SF Man Paved Way For Asian-Americans In NBA

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — Long before the national obsession with Palo Alto native Jeremy Lin, another Bay Area hoopster was paving the way for Asian-Americans in the NBA.

His name is Norman OwYoung Jang, and in 1964 he went to a San Francisco Warriors training camp — becoming the first Chinese-American to get a tryout with the NBA. Jang was the last man cut by the Warriors that year.

“Someday a Chinese player will make it because you broke the ice with the San Francisco Warriors,” wrote the late Warriors owner Franklin Meuili, in a letter on NBA stationery that Jang still has. “I know many Chinese boys now growing up will take added encouragement from the great strides you made on their behalf,” the letter said.

Even before his tryout, Jang was something of a local legend. Though standing only 5-foot-7 inches tall, he was a dynamic figure on city playgrounds and rewrote San Francisco record books while playing for Washington High School.

“We always looked up to him, on the playgrounds and at the Chinese Rec center,” said Tiger Wong, another Asian-American player from those days.

But unlike Lin, who also had an unsuccessful shot at the Warriors, Jang’s professional basketball aspirations ended after his tryout. Instead, he became a successful grocer and a property manager.

“I had a family then, so I had to go to work,” Jang said. “In my generation, parents, they want you to go out and make money. They say, forget basketball.”

He left the pros behind, but he never forgot the game. Now, at 72, Jang remains a regular player and hasn’t lost his mean hook shot.

“They call you a legend because you play so long,” he said. “But my wife still makes me take the garbage out.”

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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  • Benson Wong

    Norm was not only a great basketball player, he was a great athlete … baseball, football, track. Norm grew up in San Francisco Chinatown and hung out at the Chinese Recreation Center (Mason and Washington Streets). There were/are no grass play fields in the community and only one full-size basketball court (at the Rec). A playground director, Kenny Kim, started a basketball program called the “Shooting Stars”. Boys aged 10 to 15 played on teams … 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 100’s, 110’s exponents (a formula of age, weight, and height to determine classification). The Rec won many Park and Rec city championships and developed many All-City players, besides Norm ,,, Ken Chun, Harry Chew, Robert Won, Randy Lee, Doug Hom, Al Mock, Chew Jeong, Tony Wong, Frank Ng, Victor Low … to name a few. We learned that participating in team sports prepared us for the future as team players in the work place.

  • Sandra Wang

    This is so inspiring!!

  • 3rdGenAsianAmerican

    Thank you for the added info B. Wong! As an Asian American it’s always great to hear stories to be proud of!

  • Bob K

    The first American born Asian to break into pro basketball was 5’7″ Japanese American Wat Misaka. He led the University of Utah to NCAA and NIT championships in 1944 and 1947. He spent the middle years in the military. Wat was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1947. He was cut after three games. He was also offered a job by the Harlem Globetrotters. But he knew he could make more money outside of basketball. So he went back to school.and became an engineer.

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