A NOTE FROM THE DIRECTORS
When we first heard about Wat, we, like everyone
else we talk to, were amazed to find out that in 1947 he was the first
person of color to be drafted into professional basketball -- and by
our hometown team, the New York Knicks, to boot. At a time when racism
against Japanese Americans was at its all time high, Wat became not
only the first draft pick ever for the New York Knicks, but the first
collegiate draft pick in professional basketball history. Why had
we never heard of him? And how difficult must it have been for him,
a young Japanese American man, to be a basketball hero in post-World
War II America?
Wat was such a charismatic athlete that even in
the post World War II climate, Knicks owner Ned Irish didn't think
twice about the racial implications of having a Japanese American
player on his team. Wat simply had that intangible quality that coaches
look for and dream of in an athlete. The New York City fans were
certainly ahead of their time in accepting him, too. During the 1947
NIT Championship Tournament at Madison Square Garden, Wat guarded
and shut down Ralph Beard, All-American "Player of the Year" from
Kentucky. And when Wat was not recognized in the selection of the
MVP, the New York City crowds booed the choice.
Unfortunately, Wat's NBA career was a short one.
He only played three games, scoring seven points. Though the baseball
world had a plan firmly in place that year when integrating Jackie
Robinson into their league, no one thought about the possible repercussions
of having a Japanese American player in professional basketball.
Who can say how his career might have turned out in a less politically
After being released from the Knicks,
Wat was offered (but turned down) a spot with the Harlem Globetrotters,
who at the time were considered to be the best team in the world.
One more fact that speaks to Wat's
basketball prowess. Yet until recently he has not been acknowledged
by either history books or the Basketball Hall of Fame as the barrier-breaker
that he was. Sixty-two years later, we watched him get embraced by
the NBA Legends Organization during the NBA All Star Weekend, then
invited to Madison Square Garden where he was, at long last, celebrated
on the court by the Knicks. President Barack Obama recently welcomed
Wat to the White House, where he thanked him for his contribution
to history. And not only has famed New York Times sports writer George
Vecsey revered the fact that "history had rediscovered him",
but finally, so did a legendary building in Springfield, Massachusetts.
For on August 8, 2009, we witnessed with great pride
together, the inclusion, at long last, of Wat Misaka's profile in
the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
In telling Wat's incredible story,
we have seen lives impacted and dreams affirmed. People across the
country, from ages nine to ninety, have moved us with their tales
of inspiration from hearing how Wat Misaka triumphed over adversity.
It is our greatest hope that in sharing his story with the world,
we can all be reminded that the human spirit is powerful and transcending.
We have been humbled by the powerful
waves our film has made and as Wat's wife Katie often says,
"how far the ripples go."
Bruce Alan Johnson and Christine Toy
Johnson - January 2010
ALAN JOHNSON (Co-Director/Editor)
directed the audience award-winning short film ALL AMERICAN EYES
written by and starring his wife Christine Toy Johnson, and with
a grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program,
has collaborated with her again to make TRANSCENDING - THE WAT
MISAKA STORY. His love of basketball, digital artistry and commitment
to diversity and inclusion made this film a perfect fit for him.
He has worked Off-Broadway as Production Stage Manager for FALSETTOLAND
and the world premiere of VICTOR WOO: THE AVERAGE ASIAN AMERICAN
and as a performer, on Broadway as "Joe Gillis" opposite
Elaine Paige in SUNSET BLVD. Bruce was also the lighting designer
for the "Asian Americans on Broadway" concert series
at the Brava Theatre and Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and
the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston. An award-winning photographer,
he is the founder of Bruce Johnson Photography and Graphic Design,
whose clients have included Oscar nominated and Tony and Grammy
Award winning artists.
He is a graduate of the University
of Iowa (film production). More about his work can be found at
TOY JOHNSON (Co-director/Producer)
is an award-winning playwright, actor and filmmaker. Her first
play, THE NEW DEAL, was the inaugural play to be developed in the "Different
Voices" program at the Roundabout Theatre Company, while its
prequel, PAPER SON has been included in the Multi-cultural drama
curriculum at the University of Michigan as well as the Playwriting
curriculum at Wesleyan University. Other plays: INTERNAL BLEEDING
(Crossroads Theatre Company's Genesis Festival), ADVENTURES OF
A FAUX DESIGNER HANDBAG (in development with Leviathan Lab), "EVER
SEE A FAT CHINESE?" (produced by New Perspectives Theatre
Company) and THE PERFECT WIFE. Screenplays: NO WAVE WITHOUT WIND(with
Charles Randolph-Wright), JUMPING THE THIRD RAIL, DULLY FOR PRESIDENT
and OLD, FAT AND UGLY. Her short film about inadvertent discrimination,
ALL AMERICAN EYES, (which she also starred in and produced) was
the winner of the Audience Award at the Waves International Film
Festival, and played the Hearts and Minds and New York International
Film and Video Film Festivals. Awarded two consecutive grants from
the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, she produced
and co-directed TRANSCENDING - THE WAT MISAKA STORY with her husband,
filmmaker Bruce Johnson.
As a performer, she has appeared
extensively on Broadway, off-Broadway, in regional theatres across
the country, in film, television, and concerts worldwide for
over 25 years and is the recipient of a Boomerang Fund for Artists
Grant Award in recognition of her acting and writing careers.
Christine is a graduate of
Sarah Lawrence College and the Certificate of Screenwriting Program
at NYU. She is part of the elected leadership of Actors' Equity
Association, on the board of Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts,
a member of Leviathan Lab, AEA, SAG, AFTRA, and The Dramatists
Guild. For more, please visit www.christinetoyjohnson.com.
STAFFORD (Original Music) is a composer and
music producer. He worked with Christine Toy Johnson on both US
and World premieres of WHERE ELEPHANTS WEEP, on which he alternately
served as Music Supervisor, Music Director, Conductor, Orchestrator
and Composer. As film composer, he composed and orchestrated the
score to Pixar/Disney's critically acclaimed hit "Presto" which
was nominated for an Academy Award. Stafford is the Founder and
Chief Advisor of Studio CLA, a nonprofit ethnographic audiovisual
production studio in Phnom Penh positioned at the heart of Cambodia's
artistic rebirth. He lives in the San Francisco area with his
wife Monica and children Octavio and Amelia. More about his work
can be seen at scotstafford.com