Wat Takes His Shot: The Life & Legacy of Basketball Hero Wataru Misaka

by Cheryl Kim (Author) Nat Iwata (Illustrator)

Wat Takes His Shot: The Life & Legacy of Basketball Hero Wataru Misaka
Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade

The stirring biography of Japanese American basketball star Wataru Misaka--the first person of color to play in the NBA!

As a kid, Wataru Misaka channeled his endless energy into playing sports. Every Sunday, he raced to the park where his Japanese American community came together to play basketball. Wat wasn't the tallest on the team, but he was fast and loved the game! Encouraged by his father to always do his best, Wat applied this mentality to every aspect and challenge in his life.

Wat was a college student when the US government forced more than 122,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast into incarceration camps during WWII. He overcame racism and segregation to join his college's basketball team but despite Wat's impressive skills, he was treated as an outsider because he was Japanese American. Wat kept his eye on the ball, and his team-player mentality made him shine on and off the court. He became an inspiration to his Japanese American community. After helping Utah University's basketball team win the national championship in 1947, Wat was drafted by the New York Knicks, making him the first person of color to play in the NBA.

Wat's motivational story of rising to any challenge and bringing your best to everything you do is a reminder of the power we each have to inspire others--if we just take our shot!

Select format:

Kirkus Reviews

Solid, stirring fare for sports fans.

School Library Journal

K-Gr 4--In a multilayered picture book that, like the hero at its center, offers so much strength, personality, and invaluable life lessons in a very dense package, Kim brings young readers biography, sports story, intergenerational conflict, U.S. and world history, and racism battled on a basketball court. Wataru Misaka (1923-2019) had a word he shared with his dad: gambatte, which to them meant "do your best." Misaka loved playing basketball with members of his community. They created their own basketball league because they were Japanese American and were not allowed to join a league that was for "whites only." Misaka joined his high school basketball team as a junior and led his team to winning their first state championship. His father was so proud of him. Sadly, his father died when he was 15. His mother wanted to return to Japan because she had no money. Misaka went to school, played basketball, and got a job to help his mother support their family and stay in the U.S. He also saw friends and family incarcerated as enemies of America and went to Hiroshima a few months after the bomb was dropped to interview survivors. Despite these heavy events, Kim keeps the narration continuously breezy. Misaka plays basketball for his college team where despite the animosity of white spectators, and though smaller than his teammates, he led them to victory. He went on to become the first non-white man to play for the BBA, the pre-cursor to the NBA. This is an important and impressive story told with art that is almost graphic-novel style. This offsets the often long paragraphs, which necessarily cover the complicated highs and lows of Misaka's life. VERDICT Readers of all ages, especially those who love basketball, will rejoice over "Wat's" triumphs.--Laura Ellis

Copyright 2024 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Japanese American basketball player Wataru Misaka (1923-2019)--the first player of color to compete in what is now the NBA--is the focus of this tenacity- celebrating biography. Describing him from the jump as an energetic kid, Kim notes how when his Issei parents "couldn't afford expensive sports equipment... that didn't stop Wat." Excluded from whites-only sports leagues, Misaka played basketball in leagues formed by the Japanese American community, played on his junior high and high school teams, and, after his father's death, additionally worked to support his family. Subsequent pages outline America's entry into WWII and Misaka's being taunted by racist basketball fans during college games before being drafted into the U.S. military, where he learned to speak Japanese in the Military Intelligence Service Language School and later traveled to Japan to interview survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast. Though his professional career with the New York Knicks was brief, his indomitable spirit broke new ground in basketball. In paneled digital illustrations, Iwata's use of blurred backgrounds and inset scenes centers the visual narrative and adroitly moves events forward with dramatic side lighting. Background characters are portrayed with various skin tones. An author's note and sources conclude. Ages 6-12. (June)

Copyright 2024 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.
Cheryl Kim
Cheryl Kim is a second-grade teacher from California and the recipient of the 2020 SCBWI Kate Dopirak Craft and Community Award. Her debut nonfiction picture book, Up in the Clouds: The Katherine Sui-Fun Cheung Story, is coming soon from Lee and Low Books. She is also a writer for Capstone's Sports Illustrated Kids Stars of Sports biography series.

Olga Lee is an artist of Russian and Korean descent, who studied animation at a college in Canada. She has worked on a Russian animated film, as well as illustrated children's books in her home country. She finds her best inspiration in everyday life and stories. This is her first book for Kane Press.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Lee & Low Books
Publication date
June 18, 2024
BISAC categories
JNF007100 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Sports & Recreation
JNF018020 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - Asian American
JNF054020 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Sports & Recreation | Basketball
Library of Congress categories
United States
Japanese Americans
Basketball players
Misaka, Wat

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!