‘Do I Really Belong Here?’: Korean Americans in NBA Wonder


Earlier this season, Evan Scott was executing an NBA game in Portland when a member of the Trail Blazers’ coaching staff contacted him during a timeout.

As a second-year referee in the league, Scott is accustomed to coaches complaining about calls from time to time.

He was ruled out by John Yim for a different reason.

For Yim’s nine years as the Blazers’ video coordinator and player development coach, he has rarely shared the court with his Korean American. 28-year-old Scott is believed to be the first Korean American in the NBA

“It was a small conversation to get recognized and recognize him,” said Scott, who was born in South Korea and adopted by an American family. “We talked about how there are some more people around the league.”

Recently, a small contingent of Korean-Americans has been appointed to notable positions in the NBA, WNBA and G League. But for decades, Korean Americans have privately assisted small allies in basketball to create greater representation at the highest levels of the game.

During Yim’s tenure with the Blazers, he was approached by John Cho, who worked as the Houston Rockets director of basketball technique for 19 years.

“If you need anything, let me know,” Yim tells Cho, remembering Cho.

Yim made a similar offer in 2018, when Yale Kim began working in basketball operations with the Phoenix Suns. Like many of his Korean-American colleagues, Kim finished his playing career around middle school; In Phoenix, he was suddenly asked to scout college players. To ease the learning curve, Yim advised Kim on various video scouting technologies.

“You always reach out to see people”, Kim said, 28. “I knew technically that it is possible to be a Korean American in the operation of basketball, but until you come in contact with those people and their Don’t find out about it, when it seems attainable. “

In Major League Baseball, a group of Black athletes Created a similar network based on discussions and discussions on shared experiences in a professional sport, where their representation has fallen well below that in the general population.

There is believed to be only one player of Korean heritage who is compatible with the NBA team. Ha Seung-jin, now a popular YouTube personality in South Korea, played 46 games for the Blazers in the 2004–5 and 2005–6 seasons. From 2018 to 2019, Ji-su Park played for the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA, and he is expected to be in camp for the upcoming season.

Recently, there have been attempts to bring more players of Korean descent into the NBA

Milts Lee, the Nets director of operations of basketball from 2010 to ’14, kept Korean guard Daesung Lee in his New York apartment, while Desung Lee trained for the draft of the 2017 G League. He was introduced by South Korea’s Nets season-ticket holder Kivuk Kim.

Although Daesung Lee played a year with the G League’s Ari Behawks before returning to South Korea, a renewed hope is to surround Davidson’s soldier Hyunjung Lee, who was second in the Wildcats last season .

Eugene Park, the NBA’s senior manager for elite basketball talent recognition, shouted out Hyunjung Lee at the league’s 2017 Asia Pacific Team Camp, then invited him to the NBA Global Academy program for select young talents. In the off-season, Hyunjung Lee trains in South Korea with Brian Kim, who recently coached at the Grand Rapids Drive of the G League and is another Parks disciple.

Park, who also plays pickup basketball with Milton Lee, wrote in an email that while he holds the same standard for every player, he is “grass-roots in Korea with the hope of identifying more Korea prospects.” Keeps a close eye on the original basketball tournaments “” to be admitted to the Global Academy.

Park said that more basketball employees of Korean heritage “will display a complete picture of our history.”

News media and education system in the United States Have long struggled to describe properly The depth of the Korean-American experience, the diversity of which is evident in Park and his colleagues’ family histories.

Yim’s ancestors were the first Koreans to arrive in the United States, arriving in 1905 and working as pineapple farmers in Hawaii. Scott was one of the supposed 200,000 Children put up for adoption after the wars and their resulting economic upheaval devastated the Korean Peninsula during the 20th century.

Milton Lee stated that his father fled North Korea during the Korean War, never to see his mother or sisters again; He immigrated to the United States and became a doctor. Arnold Lee, an assistant coach at the Chicago Bulls, noted similarities between his family’s journey and the story told in the Oscar-nominated film.Minaret“His father was in his 20s, when he toured the US in the 1980s and decided to move here to avoid decades of financial uncertainty, as it had been decades of military and Struggled for the establishment of democracy after military rule.

“I hope others find strength in these Korean-American trips and use it to get them out of their comfort zones,” said Marshall Cho, a boys basketball coach at Lake Oswego High School in Oregon. Cho, who previously worked on the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program, co-founded Kimchi family Speaker series on YouTube to highlight the stories of Korean Americans on basketball.

Rachel Ju, a professor at Middlebury College, whose research describes how the sports media connect the South Korean and Korean-American communities, which Korean NBA staffers call the “Mavericks”, due to not playing professionally yet. Athletes dominated by athletes are still breaking up.

Due to his lack of playing experience, many Korean Americans in the NBA say that he has experienced impotent syndrome at various stages in his career.

“Every day I think, am I really here?” Said Arnold Lee, who has worked for the Bulls since 2016.

Several Korean-American staff members interviewed said they had experience of racism within the game.

Scott said fans in the high school gym and pro arenas were sarcastic at him and discussed the events with Isaac and Jacob Barnett, brothers of Korean descent, who were referees in the WANBA and the G League. The three of them grew up together in Northern Virginia, and Barnets encouraged Scott to become a referee.

Microaggressions are also common. Yim remembered being introduced as the NBA’s general manager during the Summer League and a colleague reported back that the executive considered Yim to be passive and soft and as someone who “should be happy, you have Work. “

The 36-year-old Yim is now well regarded around the league. At the age of 28, he left a teaching career to take an internship with the Los Angeles Clippers, working at 6:30 a.m. to do everything from “wiping sweat during a pick-up game” to training with players. Was lying.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts has called Yim an “important” part of his staff, and Yim has built a strong rapport with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Portland’s Star Guards.

Yim is also ready for a confrontation with the referee. When he approached Scott this season, he began their conversation by arguing about a foul dishonesty on McCollum before being congratulated.

“I was proud of him as a Korean for being the first Korean referee in the league,” Yim said. “Seeing him gave me some inspiration that I could be the first Korean head coach in the NBA. Ivan thanked me and then said, ‘When you’re a head coach, I’ll give you the first opportunity that will give you the technicals.”

“I said, ‘This is a deal.” “



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