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‘Do I Really Belong Here?’: Korean Americans in the N.B.A. Wonder

  • April 16, 2021

In Major League Baseball, a group of Black athletes created a similar network based on mentorship and discussing shared experiences in a professional sport where their representation has fallen well below what it is in the general population.

There is believed to be only one player of Korean heritage who has suited up for an N.B.A. 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 W.N.B.A.’s Las Vegas Aces, and she is expected to be in camp for the upcoming season.

Recently, there have been efforts to bring more players of Korean descent into the N.B.A.

Milton Lee, the Nets’ director of basketball operations from 2010 to ’14, housed the Korean guard Daesung Lee in his New York apartment while Daesung Lee trained to prepare for the 2017 G League draft. They were introduced by Kiwook Kim, a Nets season-ticket holder from South Korea.

Although Daesung Lee played one year with the Erie BayHawks of the G League before returning to South Korea, renewed hope surrounds the Davidson sophomore Hyunjung Lee, who was second on the Wildcats in scoring this past season.

Eugene Park, the N.B.A.’s senior manager for elite basketball talent identification, scouted Hyunjung Lee at the league’s 2017 Asia Pacific Team Camp, then invited him to the N.B.A. Global Academy program for select young talent. In the off-season, Hyunjung Lee trains in South Korea with Brian Kim, who recently coached the G League’s Grand Rapids Drive and is another Park 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 scouts, he keeps “a close eye on grass-roots basketball competitions in Korea with the hope of identifying more Korean prospects” to potentially recruit to the Global Academy.

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