Natalie Nakase is no stranger to making history in the basketball world. A few years ago, we profiled the Japanese American basketball player who, despite a petite height of 5-feet-2-inches, had undeniable basketball skills since high school. Nakase went on to play college basketball for UCLA before making history as the first Asian American to play in the National Women’s Basketball League (NWBL).
Things took a turn for Nakase when a serious knee injury ended her playing career. Of course, she wasn’t about to let go of basketball all together. She simply decided to take a different route. In 2011, Nakase made history books once again as head coach of the Saitama Broncos in Japan, making her the first female head coach in Japanese men’s professional basketball history.
Nakase is currently the assistant video coordinator for the Los Angeles Clippers, but she has been quite vocal about her goal of becoming a head coach in the NBA, despite the fact that none of the 30 head NBA coaches are female.
Recently, she took a huge step closer to her goal. Doc Rivers, head coach of the Clippers, asked Nakase to coach the summer league, making her the first Asian female assistant coach in NBA history.
Despite her petite stature, the players have responded well to her.
“When they sit down is probably the best time where I can really get into their ear because they’re sitting and they’re level to me,” she told NPR. “If I say the right things, and things that can help them, then they’ll listen, no matter how tall I am or if I’m a female.”
This is clearly a huge step for the Asian American female community and Nakase has made it clear that she will be ready for whatever comes her way. We certainly can’t wait for this talented woman to become the first female NBA head coach.
In 2012, basketball star Jeremy Lin lived the ultimate underdog story. As the then-23-year-old rose from obscurity — one minute, he was worried his short-lived NBA career was over, the next minute, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “Against All Odds” — Lin became more than an international sports hero. He embodied the hardworking Asian American icon that had been discriminated against and underestimated his entire life and was finally getting his opportunity to show the world what he could really do.
While his February 2012 streak caught everyone (including Lin himself) off guard, no one could have been more excited than the film team led by director Evan Jackson Leong, who happened to be shooting a documentary about Lin at the time. Leong had started production on the film back when Lin was a senior at Harvard university. Lin remembers, “I figured, worst case, we’d have someone compile all this footage and make a cool story, and maybe I’ll be able to show it to my kids and my grandkids one day.”
As January 2012 rolled around, Leong was ready to wrap up Lin’s story, but the only thing he was missing was a good ending. Lin not only gave them their ending, he elevated the stakes of the film more than any of them could ever imagine. What was envisioned as a low-key series of webisodes about one of the few Asian Americans in the NBA suddenly included footage of sports journalists bombarding Kobe Bryant with questions about Lin, David Letterman donning a Jeremy Lin jersey on the Late Show, and even President Obama claiming he knew about Lin way back when he was playing at Harvard. Narrated by actor Daniel Dae Kim, Linsanity: The Jeremy Lin Story screened at the Sundance Festival, had a theatrical release in October, and will be out on DVD January 4.
After the whirlwind that was Linsanity whisked Lin from the New York Knicks to the Houston Rockets in July 2012, the attention started to die down. A year later, the 25-year-old has, for the most part, remained out of the headlines, but in Taiwan, the homeland of Lin’s parents, the obsession continues. Giant Linsanity billboards can be seen all over Taipei, and as Linsanity producer Bryan Yang says in a new NBA video about Jeremy Lin fandom in Taiwan: “Linsanity as a phenomenon has not subsided. It’s as if it were February 2012 still. … It’s the Beatles, except modern-day in Taiwan.”
Each summer, Lin travels to Taiwan to teach at a youth basketball camp, as well as to share his testimony of the past year. At 2013’s “Dream Big, Be Yourself” youth conference in Taipei, he confessed that he temporarily lost control of his identity with the unexpected onslaught of fame.
“I talked a lot about the pressures of Linsanity and being caught up in who everyone else wanted me to be,” says Lin. “I addressed three main issues that draw people away from God — money, worldly success and human approval — and how I started to put my identity in basketball. I started to be consumed by the whole Linsanity thing.”
On what helps him keep his head on straight, he says, “I think it’s just constant reminders, going back to the Gospel message and understanding that it doesn’t matter how well I play or what I do on the court; at the end of the day, I’m still a sinner before God, and that’s all that really matters. I need His grace, His love, His forgiveness, and it’s about being diligent, spending time with God every single day and having that support network to keep you accountable.”
But that doesn’t mean Lin doesn’t have time to have fun. On his down time, he and his family and friends collaborate on comedy videos on his YouTube channel, which boasts videos with up to 4.7 million views and have featured everyone from popular YouTube stars KevJumba and Ryan Higa to basketball colleagues Steve Nash and James Harden.
“People can take three minutes and watch a funny video, and it’ll help them laugh and relax, but hopefully every video has a specific message behind it, too,” says Lin. For example, one of his latest videos, “You’ve Changed, Bro,” which spoofs the idea that Lin has let fame go to his head, ends with a passage from Romans 12:2a: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”
And on being considered a new Asian American sex symbol? The 6- foot-2-inch athlete, who has been quoted saying that his perfect girl would be “a faithful Christian” and have “a desire to serve other people [and] help with the underprivileged,” remains modest.
“I appreciate that people see me in that way, but it’s kind of something that I brush to the side,” he says. “I don’t think that’s ever been one of my goals or one of my focuses, but I’m still thankful that they see me in whatever light that they see me in.”
This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here.
Although many of us may have gone linsane back in 2012 when third-string guard, end of the bench player, Jeremy Lin became a new sensation, many fans and even sports professionals did not know much about him. Director Evan Jackson Leong and his crew began documenting Lin’s journey in basketball way before all the hype of Linsanity pushed him to stardom. This film follows his high school days where he led his team to a state championship, but was not recruited by any college scouts, to his time at Harvard, and finally to his NBA career with the Golden State Warriors, the New York Knicks, and now the Houston Rockets.
The movie allows the audience to get to know Lin on a more personal level. From the interviews to home-video footage of his childhood, we get to see Lin’s core values of faith and family and how they have shaped his personality and career. The film was released late January to various film festivals such as Sundance, SXSW. Hong Kong International, Asian American International, and CAAMFest. Ketchup Entertainment has acquired the rights to the documentary and it is now scheduled to premiere in over a dozen major cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and San Francisco on October 4.
This isn’t just a sports documentary, it’s a story of how one hard working humble man not only battled it out on the court, but also battled inherent and overt racism as an Asian-American player. Leong’s work and Lin’s story definitely makes for a captivating film for both sports and non-sports fans.
So you believe in the stereotype that Asians don’t know a thing about sports? Clearly, you haven’t met Erik Spoelstra. In 2008, Spoelstra made history as the first Asian American head coach in the history of not only the NBA, but of the four major American sports leagues. This Filipino American coach was determined clearly determined to make an even bigger impression. By leading his team Miami Heat to victory, Spoelstra became the first Asian American to win an NBA championship.
But of course, it doesn’t even stop there. Recently, Spoelstra gained a second NBA championship when The Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 with a final score of 95-88. Multiple championship wins is a feat that only 12 NBA coaches have been able to achieve. Spoelstra has already gained a name for himself for the consecutive victories and for successfully coaching the “Big Three” (Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh).
Although one of the youngest coaches of the NBA, Spoelstra proves that he is a force to be reckoned with. He has been part of The Heat staff since 1995 and has shown that he has what it takes to see his team succeed.
Audrey Magazine is an award-winning national publication that covers the Asian experience from the perspective of Asian American women. Audrey covers the latest talent and trends in entertainment, fashion, beauty and lifestyle.