Recently, Chinese students at the MLB Development Center in Wuxi, China were visited by a delegation from George Washington University. Image: Twitter of Mark Hyman, Professor, Sports Manaagement, George Washington University.

Asian Athletes Make History in Three US Sports Leagues

Japan Korea Australia China India Asia

The impact of Asians across the American sports landscape continues to grow as more athletes come to play in the United States and fandom for US leagues grows in the Asia Pacific. In 2015 alone, players from Asian countries never before represented have been drafted or signed in three of the four major sports leagues in the US.

Most recently, Major League Baseball added its first ever Chinese citizen when Guiyuan Xu signed a contract with Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Baltimore Orioles at the MLB development center at Dong Bei Tang School in Wuxi. MLB began a strategy in 2000 to develop Chinese players by opening training facilities across China, with locations in Wuxi, Changzhou, and Nanjing. If Xu ends up playing in the MLB, he will become the first Chinese citizen to play in the league, though he would be the second person born in China to do so. Harry Kingman was born in China to western missionaries in 1892 and played for the New York Yankees in 1914.

Other players from Asian countries have played and had success in the league for many years. At the start of the season in 2015, nine players from Japan made it the best-represented country of any in the Asia Pacific region. South Korea followed with three players in the league, while Australia had two and Taiwan had one. Active players from Asia include the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish, and Shin-Soo Choo. Historically, there have been 95 players from the Asia Pacific region, with the first being Australian Joe Quinn.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) reached its own milestone earlier in the year when the first Indian-born basketball player was chosen in the 2015 NBA draft. Satnam Singh was selected by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round and should he make the team, it could boost the league’s popularity in India much like what happened in China when Yao Ming was playing. The first player of Indian descent to play in an NBA game also debuted earlier this year when Sacramento Kings center Sim Bhullar, born in Canada, got into a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The league has long been interested in the Asia market and developing players from the region. At the start of last season, a record 101 international players from 37 countries were on opening night rosters including eight players from Australia and one from New Zealand. The NBA has already had players from China, Japan, and South Korea at various times.

The National Hockey League (NHL) also made history earlier this year when the first Chinese citizen was drafted into the league. Born in Beijing, Song Andong was selected in the 6th round by the New York Islanders. Long dominated by players from North America and Europe, Song is one of just a handful of Asians ever to join the NHL.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) annual March Madness basketball tournament also had a strong showing of players from the Asia Pacific in 2015, with 26 total players across the men’s and women’s tournaments.

Nate Schlabach is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.