Warriors

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

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Norman OwYoung Jang of San Francisco (left) was the first Chinese-American to participate in an NBA tryout, training with the Warriors in 1964. (CBS)

Norman OwYoung Jang of San Francisco (left) was the first Chinese-American to participate in an NBA tryout, training with the Warriors in 1964. (CBS)

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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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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