May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, and MSG Networks will do some interesting programming around past and present AAPI figures in sports. They announced Monday that they’ll air programming throughout the month to recognize and celebrate contributions from the AAPI community to the sports world. This programming will also stream on MSG Go. Here’s more from a release:
The commemorative coverage will include a series of interstitial vignettes that put a spotlight on the incredible achievements of trailblazing AAPI athletes throughout history that continue to have a lasting impact on sports and society. Some of the individuals that will be featured include Wataru “Wat” Misaka, who became the first Asian American to play in the NBA after getting drafted by the Knicks in 1947, Olympic diver Victoria Manalo Draves, who became the first Asian-American woman to earn an Olympic Gold medal back in 1948 or Larry Kwong, who became the first player of Asian descent to suit up in an NHL game when he took the ice with the Rangers in 1948.
The programming during the month will also pay tribute and honor the individuals, organizations and businesses that help shape the culture and proudly represent the AAPI community across New York City. Some of the original content will include:
Behind-the-scenes look at the work inside the kitchen of Tao Group’s Executive Chefs Ken Yang Kangchao and Erin Cayaban
Profile on the New York Titans, an Asian American youth basketball team based in Queens and member of Junior Knicks organization
Interview with Knicks assistant coach Dice Yoshimoto, who became the second Asian American to ever lead an NBA team when he served as the Knicks summer league head coach in 2021
The new interviews and original content are notable, and so are these vignettes on past trailblazers. Misaka, Draves, and Kwong all have interesting stories that aren’t widely known, and they all battled incredible racism during their sports careers and beyond. And the focus on Misaka and Kwong seems particularly strong for MSG, as both of those historic trailblazers played for MSG teams.
Both Misaka and Kwong were not only the first players of Asian descent in their respective leagues, they were the first non-white players in those leagues. Earl Lloyd became the first Black player in the NBA three years after Misaka’s first game, while Willie O’Ree became the first Black player in the NHL a full decade after Kwong’s debut. (Interestingly enough, the Rangers also offered a minor-league contract to Black trailblazer Herb Carnegie in 1948, but he turned that down to return to higher pay in the Quebec Senior Hockey League.)
Kwong and Misaka only had short NHL and NBA careers respectively, but racism likely played a role there: both found significant athletic success outside those leagues. And Draves’ story is also notable; she won dual diving golds in the 1948 Olympics, becoming the first American woman to win two diving gold medals and the first Asian-American woman to win any Olympic gold medal. All three of these trailblazing stories deserve more attention, especially at a time where there is still widespread discrimination and violence against Asian-Americans. It’s cool to see MSG spotlighting these stories as part of this programming initiative.