Basketball History: The Hong Wah Kues

??? – Brave Chinese Warriors

Running on Asian time, this post comes right in time for Chinese New Year, but thanks to The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, the Hong Wah Kues were brought to people’s attention once again (possibly for many, for the first time). They were the first Chinese professional team way back in 1939 and had to face racial slurs and discrimination and were basically seen as a novelty in places that have never seen Asians before. But they always put on a show, used their strength’s to their advantage and ended up winning between 70-75% of their games. Let’s take a look back at this amazing team–

1939 was a tough year for many with The Great Depression giving people very little disposable income. However, a white accountant from San Francisco named James Porter decided to hold tryouts and assemble an all-Chinese touring team. The original 6 members were former high school players who had no plans of going to college and hoped to gain something positive from the experience.

“Most of us were just out of high school, and we weren’t going to college, so we thought we’d see the country.”

The team played every single night and twice on Sundays from November to March and crammed 7 people into a ’39 Pontiac, a drastically different means of travel compared to today’s NBA players. Their journey started in California, then all the way out to Chicago and eventually back to California.

They drew crowds all over the nation and won them over with their hustle plays, dribbling and fast-paced, uptempo game. The players on the Hong Wah Kues ranged from 5’3 to 5’11 so they had difficulty with some of the taller teams. To add to their exoticness, the team only spoke Chinese on the court even though they all knew how to speak English.

Their skill and dexterity came as a surprise to most and it was a number of years before the model minority concept’s birth but the stereotypes and racial slurs were there. Some racist things were written about them in the newspapers such as: “The Chinks flashed a snappy and deceptive passing attack.” Fans would also shout, “Go Chinky!”

The team said that they didn’t stick around town long enough to protest what had been written but it wasn’t something that they dwelled on. Instead they remembered the adoration and respect they received from the fans around the country as they have stated in this Emmy Award winning retrospective:

Unfortunately the start of World War II brought an end to the tour and their playing days but in the two years that they were a team were definitely memorable for those who witnessed it. The No-Look Pass is honored to recognize this team for their efforts. They have paved the way for members of the All-Asian Obscure Team, Jeremy Lin and other Asian and Asian-American NBA players. We salute the Hong Wah Kues.

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