Natalie Nakase Makes NBA History As the First Asian Female Assistant Coach

 

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.

 

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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.

 

PARALLELS: Harry Shum, Jr. Explores the Similarities Between Dance and Sport

 

When dancer, actor and choreographer Harry Shum, Jr. saw a TV special from 1958 called Gene Kelly: Dancing – A Man’s Game, he was quickly captivated and inspired. During the special, Gene Kelly interpreted the moves of top athletes, such as Mickey Mantle and Sugar Ray Robinson, into a choreographed dance. Being both an avid dancer and athlete, it didn’t take long for Harry to begin exploring the similarities between dance and sport, despite the ongoing idea that the two are on very different spectrums.

Harry teamed up with filmmaker Cole Walliser, as well as leading contemporary dancers and athletes to create a new video series called “Parallels.” The series analyzes and compares the movements of dancers and athletes to emphasize the similarities between the two genres and what that parallel could mean.

“They serve two completely different purposes, but what makes sport and dance the same?” Harry asks. “Timing. Grace. Rhythm. Control. This is not a direct comparison, but an exploration of the tenacity, emotion and physical prowess that it takes to reach the highest level of athleticism. Is sport an art form? Is dance a sport?”

The series consists of four videos which juxtaposes the movement, athleticism and grace of Red Bull action sport athletes to various kinds of dancers. “Parallels” premieres today, July 30. Check them out for yourself below.

 

 

 

 

 

Japanese School Girls Turn Innocent Game of Tag Into Badass Parkour

 

When this video began popping up everywhere, I was confused. How could a pair of Japanese school girls get more than a million views on YouTube in just a few days?

The video starts off innocently enough. The girls are playing and chasing each other around school. Suddenly, one jumps over a trash can and begins flipping in the hallway. Well, that was unexpected … WOAH, did she just jump off a building!?

Before you know it, an innocent chase between two young school girls becomes an epic show of parkour skills.

 

 

As it turns out, one of the girls, Fuka Yoshino, is a professional kickboxer and athlete. They certainly had me fooled there. The video keeps viewers impressed and entertained the entire time. Now I wonder why it doesn’t have even more views.

At the very end of the video, the girls playfully open up a bottle of a citrus soft drink called C.C. Lemon. Yup, it turns out this incredibly epic video is just an ad for a beverage.

 

 

 

 

Why Asian Americans Are in Support of Jeremy Lin Joining the Lakers

 

This past weekend, social media exploded with the news that Jeremy Lin was traded from the Houston Rockets to the Los Angeles Lakers. In particular, Asian Americans couldn’t stop talking about it. After all, Lin’s success story hit home with many of us, sports fans and non-sports fans alike.

However, Lin’s trade was met with much debate. Some Laker fans criticized his ability and questioned whether or not his fans were supporting him for the right reasons. We’re gonna clear it up for you: Yes, Asian Americans support Jeremy Lin not only for his skills but also because he succeeded against all odds. He succeeded despite the doubts thrown at him that we, as Asian Americans, face on a daily basis.

We summed it up in our Winter 2013-2014 issue by pointing out that Lin “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.”

 

 

 

Furthermore, NBC News points out that the trade was clearly a good decision. Los Angeles is one of the largest Asian American markets and will surely be in support of Lin.

“Lin has a chance to make a huge impact in that town — not by trying to relive ‘Linsanity’ but by being a solid player constantly trying to improve his game,” said University of Michigan Asian/Pacific Islander American History Professor Scott Kurashige to NBC News. “As long as he performs at that level, Asian Americans will undoubtedly rally behind Lin and the Lakers, but he’ll gain the respect of many more beyond that.”

As for Lin, he doesn’t seemed to be phased by all the debate. Three days ago, he posted the following picture.
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“Thank you to Houston fans, media, Rockets staff, coaches and teammates for the last 2 years,” he wrote in his caption. “Sad it never went, or ended, the way I had envisioned it to, but God always has a perfect plan and I’ll forever cherish that chapter of my life. Im SO blessed to join the Lakers and cant wait to get started!!! #purpleandgold #calikid”

 


Korean Golfer Ignores Suggestion to Get Plastic Surgery, Wins 16 Golf Tournaments Instead

We’ve all heard stories of models and actresses who have to deal with the sometimes unattainable expectation to be beautiful all the time, but now it appears that this expectation of beauty is expanding to the sports world. Apparently, even some athletes are now facing the pressure to be beautiful. At least that’s what it seems to be in the case of 26-year-old Korean golfer, Ahn Sun-ju.

After winning 16 tournaments and accruing nearly $5 million in prize money since 2010, Ahn has climbed her way upward and has become the top female golfer in Japan. Clearly, this is an extraordinary achievement, but it left sports columnist Lee Young-mi with questions. Namely, why was she not striving to be the best golfer in Korea?

Unfortunately, her responses to his interview questions were disheartening to say the least. Simply put, her physical appearance held her back.

“Some (potential Korean) sponsors even demanded I get plastic surgery,” she said in the article. “Companies did not consider me as a golf athlete, only that I was a woman. It mattered most to them was whether my appearance was marketable [sic]. I was deeply hurt by that.”

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The Korea Times points out that she won six tournaments in Korea, but still struggled to find a corporate sponsor. Is it really because she wasn’t pretty enough? She thinks so. During the interview, Ahn acknowledged that she doesn’t fit the stereotypical definition of “sexy” (why does that even matter?) but would not let that hinder her from playing golf. Instead, she turned to Japan.

“Japanese companies, on the other hand, focused on my ability as a golfer,” Ahn explained. “They are more concerned about my performance and how I treat my fans. I am being sponsored by six Japanese companies, including a clothing brand.”

Can we say for certain that Ahn’s decision to move to JLPGA was due to Korea’s inability to accept her physical appearance? Absolutely not. She may have just dealt with a sour company’s opinion and we certainly shouldn’t assume that the KLPGA puts those expectations on their players.

What we do know is that Ahn endured a horrible experience of someone telling her she wasn’t pretty enough. What’s even worse is the realization that we, too — sometimes not even aware of it — are told the same thing.

Many of us, especially women, are pressured on a daily basis as hundreds of advertisements tell us there’s room for improvement. That of course confirms the message we’ve grown up with our entire lives: we’re never enough and our imperfections need to be fixed. The pressure to be beautiful certainly occurs worldwide, but some countries, such as Korea, have begun to build a reputation for beauty, a reputation maybe they feel they must keep. Many people have now correlated Korea’s high beauty standards to their equally high plastic surgery rates. After all, how else is one supposed to keep up with such extreme pressure and expectations?

We may never know the details behind Ahn Sun-ju’s unfortunate experience. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that we admire her. She quickly understood that her worth was measured in her talent, not in her external beauty. Besides, last we checked, beauty never won golf tournaments. Good for you, girl.

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Korean American Michelle Wie Wins The U.S. Open

Story by Julie Ha. 

She did it. Michelle Wie just scored the biggest win of her career.

The 24-year-old golfer won the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, with a two-shot victory over the No. 1-ranked Stacy Lewis.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening,” Wie said on NBC, reacting to the career milestone.

Anyone who’s followed Wie’s roller coaster career, which began which so much promise and anticipation, but didn’t always produce the big wins, will appreciate the significance of this victory for the Korean American, who began playing golf at age 4. In today’s play, the Stanford graduate displayed the maturity of a champion, after recovering from  a late double-bogey 6 on the 16th hole and nailing a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th.

One NBC golf commentator summed it up, remarking, “We’ve been talking about Michelle Wie forever—the ups and downs … This is a pretty cool moment.”

Wie seems to be on a roll, making her previous, four-year winless streak a thing of the past. In April, she won the LPGA LOTTE Championship in her home state of Hawaii, which was her first LPGA victory since 2010.

Photo via Getty Images.

This story was originally published on iamkoream.com.

Yuna Kim Graces the Cover of ‘VOGUE KOREA’

Story by James S. Kim.

Yuna Kim hung up her blades for the final time after a farewell performance in Seoul earlier this month. But the South Korean queen of the ice isn’t done with figure skating quite yet.

Kim told Vogue Korea that she was looking forward to the next stage in her career, which will involve developing younger skaters and keeping South Korea in the conversation for the sport.

“Thinking about how I am going to be living a completely different life, I am excited and also afraid,” she admitted. “However, my anticipation is greater. I will still be working in sports. Since figure skating is something that I know the most, I won’t let go of it, and I hope to be able to help my juniors.”

Readers of Vogue Korea will also be able to see an entirely different side of Kim in the June issue. Her photo spread brings back memories of her 2010 record-setting gold medal free skate in Vancouver, where she skated to George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F,” as she dons the bob and edginess of a 1920s flapper.

Check out these photos.

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This story was originally published on iamkoream.com
(Images via Vogue Korea)

LINSANITY : Not Even A Multimillion Dollar NBA Contract Or A Feature Film Can Change Jeremy Lin

Story by Ada Tseng.

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

Frances Chung: Living The Cinderella Dream, Literally

Story by Taylor Weik. Photos by Erik Tomasson. 

To anyone else, a 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. workday at the office might be a full load. But Frances Chung, a principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, didn’t spend the day in an office. This morning she came into the studio early to change, then spent an hour and a half warming up and working on her technique. The rest of the day was spent in grueling rehearsals with her company in preparation for their tour to New York next week. Any other person would be passed out in bed by now. But Chung’s cheerful voice gives away nothing over the phone.

“It’s been a long day,” she says casually.

A rigorous schedule is nothing new to Chung. Born in Vancouver to Chinese parents, Chung and her older sister were enrolled in piano and ballet classes at their local community center at the age of 5 “because, you know, our parents are the typical Asian parents,” she says. While her sister preferred the piano, Chung excelled in ballet. At 16, while competing in Switzerland, she won a scholarship that would allow her to spend the summer dancing in Boston. There, her talent was undeniable. She was immediately offered a full-time position as a ballerina with the Boston Ballet, but she turned it down so that she could finish high school.

During her senior year, Chung auditioned for 10 different ballet companies across the United States before she got the acceptance call from the San Francisco Ballet. She graduated high school and, at 17, left home for the first time. She’s been with the company for the last 12 years.

“I’m now going into my 13th season,” she says slowly, as if digesting the news. She knows it’s been a long time. “I’m definitely a West Coast girl. I don’t plan on going anywhere, anytime soon.”

And how could she? After joining in 2001, Chung danced for four years before being promoted to soloist in 2005, then another four years until she achieved her dream of becoming a principal dancer in 2009. She’s danced a variety of roles over the years, including the Sugar Plum Fairy in Nutcracker, the Enchanted Princess in The Sleeping Beauty and the Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote, the latter of which she had wanted to play since she was a young girl. She also recently played the title role of Cinderella, something she describes as being “every girl’s dream.”

 

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“I’m at the peak of my career now; I just turned 30,” says Chung. “I don’t know when I will stop. I’m just going to go until my body can’t handle it anymore.”

Chung’s job isn’t one for the weak of heart, mind or body. San Francisco Ballet dancers work 42 weeks of the year, and then many, like Chung, use the little time they have off to dance in side projects. One of her favorite “vacations” has been traveling to Germany with some of her fellow dancers, which has inspired her to one day form her own project and bring dancers to perform in her hometown of Vancouver.

Another inevitable side effect of dancing? Injuries both physical and mental. Chung has sprained both of her ankles many times and has suffered from knee, hip and back pains. Sometimes she struggles with self-esteem, and has to remind herself that her identity is not based on who she is as a dancer. She has her bad days.

But every bad day is worth the many more good days she has performing with the San Francisco Ballet. She enjoys the freedom dancing brings her, and because the same ballets have been danced many times by hundreds of other dancers, Chung also enjoys the challenge of adding her own style to make the role her own.

But more than anything, she values the opportunities she’s had to meet people. “When I think back — wait, that makes me sound old,” she laughs. “All of my favorite memories are the ones I’ve shared with people. I love working with other dancers, and dancing with different choreographers is a new experience every time.”

Chung knows she’s not going to be dancing forever. She will age, and eventually she’ll be too tired to perform the same movements with ease. Where will she be in 10, 15, 20 years from now?

“Hopefully I will have graduated college, at least,” she jokes.

But for now, Chung is exactly where she wants to be. She’s not a planner. She takes her life day by day, waking up early and perfecting her pointe work and pirouettes until the sun sets. When she’s not dancing, she likes to cook and read up on home design and may even catch up on some movies. And what does she watch to unwind? “Flashdance,” she says. “What can I say?”

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ABOUT FRANCES CHUNG
Woman’s Best Friend: She has a 5-pound Chihuahua mutt named Iggy.
Fast Food Indulgence: In-N-Out double double with grilled onions.
Multitasking Abilities: She is currently taking college courses while dancing at the San Francisco Ballet.

This story was originally published in our Winter 2013-14 issue. Get your copy here

Tokyo Wins 2020 Summer Olympics Bid

In what many considered to be an upset win, Japan’s capital won the winning bid for the 2020 Olympics early Sunday. Tokyo won the bid after a final round of voting by International Olympic Committee (IOC) members in Buenos Aires, beating Istanbul by 60-36 votes.

It was a surprise, as not many expected the city to win. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to show the world “a safe and secure Olympics games” during a personal presentation to the committee, promising a major cleanup of any radiation leakages from the Fukushima nuclear plants.

In a post-announcement press conference, Abe said, “Sport has the power to unite people. We experienced that after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, when athletes came to our country and helped us. Japan needs the power of sport; we need hopes and dreams.”

The upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia, followed by the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, and then the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.