By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
It has been a year like no other in sports. With the pandemic ravaging across the world, sports have had to adjust to the closures. Sports leagues shut down in the spring and its return has come with caution and without fans for the most part.
The Summer Olympics in Tokyo were delayed a year and it’s still not known whether Japan can hold the event in 2021. The Masters was delayed until November, the NBA and WNBA played in “bubbles” in Florida, and Major League Baseball played an abbreviated schedule.
(Noteworthy though is the fact that the Seattle Storm won its 4th WNBA title.)
Still, 2020 saw some great moments by many Asian athletes. Here is a list of the top 10.
10. Matt Dumba
The Minnesota North Stars defenseman became the face of the Black Lives Matter movement in the NHL. He was also the face of the league as it returned to play from the pandemic this year. Dumba became an inaugural executive board member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance whose goal is to address intolerance and racism in hockey. Dumba’s mother is Filipino.
9. Younghoe Koo
The Atlanta Falcons placekicker had a breakout year as he was selected to the NFL Pro Bowl.
The Georgia Southern product re-signed with the Falcons this past offseason and had one of the best years for a kicker in the league. He was selected NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November. He’s made 35 of 36 field goals this season. Originally from South Korea, Koo grew up playing soccer and converted his leg skills to football.
8. Jalen Green
This 18-year-old from California decided to turn pro and took advantage of an NBA program, where he would play in its developmental league instead of going to college. Green was one of the top players in high school basketball and had his pick of elite college programs. Green, whose mother is Filipino, decided to turn down college in favor of heading to the pros. This past April, Green signed a one-year deal with the NBA developmental program worth $500,000.
Green has played internationally for Team USA, but has expressed an interest to represent the Philippines in future international competitions.
7. Mike Magpayo
Leaving a career in real estate, Magpayo followed his dream of coaching. He coached high school while he worked and soon found himself as an assistant coach in the college ranks after he dedicated his career to it. He became the very first Asian American head coach of a Division I school when he took the helm at University of California, Riverside this past summer.
Magpayo scored his first win as head coach against the Washington Huskies this past November. The win occurred less than a week after his wife gave birth to their first child.
6. Kyler Murray
Murray is the second-year quarterback out of Oklahoma and is the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. Murray, whose mother is Korean, led the Cardinals to an overtime win over the Seahawks back in October. His exceptional play at the beginning of the season led many to believe that he could garner consideration for the Most Valuable Player of the NFL.
The highlight of his season thus far was a last-ditch, “Hail Murray” from the 50-yard line into the hands of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the endzone to win a game against the Buffalo Bills. Murray even filed a trademark for the great play, “Hail Murray.”
5. Sonia Raman
The former women’s college basketball coach at MIT, Raman became the first Indian woman to be appointed assistant coach of an NBA team. Raman will be an assistant for the Memphis Grizzlies this season. The former corporate attorney took a roundabout path to coaching. She played collegiate basketball at Tufts and returned to be an assistant while going to law school at Boston College. Similar to Magpayo, she worked while coaching on the side until she finally received a paid coaching gig as an assistant at MIT.
“It’s an important part of who I am, period. I take a lot of pride in being Indian American,” Raman said in an interview with her alma mater Tufts.
4. Erik Spoelstra
One of the longest tenured coaches in the NBA, Spoelstra made an unexpected return to the NBA Finals this season. As the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat withstood the strange return to playing basketball games, as the players were kept in a ‘bubble’ in Orlando, Florida. Making the NBA Finals (the longer you won, the longer you stayed in), the Heat spent almost five months in the ‘bubble’ away from home.
Although the Heat came up short against the Los Angeles Lakers this fall, Spoelstra’s ability to motivate and manage his team showed fans why he is one of the best coaches in the league.
3. Naomi Osaka
The Black Lives Matter protests this summer brought many together at a time when an unknown pandemic kept many apart. The BLM movement was aided through the visibility of many athletes that spoke out in public, on social media, and with their actions. One of those athletes was tennis star Naomi Osaka. Osaka, who is half Black and half Japanese, used her social media presence to voice her support for the BLM movement. She also attended marches in support of the movement after the death of George Floyd. During the U.S. Open, she wore face masks with the names of individuals that were victims of racial injustice. Osaka won the U.S. Open. She later said that the names on each mask were motivation for her to win.
2. Collin Morikawa
This 23-year-old University of Cal-Berkeley alum won the PGA Championship this past August in his debut in the tournament championship. It was just his second appearance in a major PGA event. He became the third youngest PGA Championship winner since World War II. He won the event with an incredible eagle on the 16th hole of the final round of the tournament.
At only 23, expect more from the Japanese American golfer.
1. Kim Ng
Finally. This longtime Major League Baseball executive was appointed General Manager of the Miami Marlins in November, marking the first time that a woman, and an Asian American, has ever had the spot in professional sports. Ng started her career with the Chicago White Sox in 1991 after graduating from the University of Chicago, where she played collegiate softball. She moved her way through the ranks earning distinction for her work ethic and her tenacity in negotiations. She worked for both the Los Angeles Dodger and New York Yankees in assistant general manager roles. Despite the glass ceiling and the stigma that a woman, and an Asian American, did not belong in a position of authority and management where it was the norm for a white male with lesser credentials to dominate, Ng persevered. She has interviewed and been on the short list for many general manager positions including the Seattle Mariners. Yet, she had been turned down each time. In 2003, a Sports Illustrated article earmarked her for being a top executive to look out for in the near future. It just took her 17 years for someone to finally realize her value.
Here’s hoping that 2021 brings us more sports memories and perhaps a return to watch in person.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.