Notable Asian, Pacific American athletes and achievements


In recognition of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, Stats & Information looks at some of the most prominent athletes of Asian and Pacific American descent and some of the most noteworthy sports accomplishments by athletes of that lineage.


Tiger Woods, one of the most successful golfers in history, is of Thai and Chinese descent. (He also describes himself as being of Caucasian, black and Native American descent.) Woods has won 14 major golf titles, second to the 18 of Jack Nicklaus.


• Anthony Kim: member of 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup-winning team (of Korean descent)

• Michelle Wie: 2014 U.S. Women’s Open Champion (of Korean descent)

College football

Marcus Mariota in 2014 became the first Pacific Islander to win the Heisman Trophy. The Hawaii native quarterbacked Oregon to the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game and was the second pick (chosen by the Tennessee Titans) in the 2015 NFL draft.


• Dat Nguyen: star linebacker at Texas A&M who played for the Dallas Cowboys (of Vietnamese descent)

• Manti Te’o: former Notre Dame linebacker, finished second in 2012 Heisman trophy voting; now with the San Diego Chargers linebacker (Pacific Islander)

• Timmy Chang: set what was then the FBS career record for passing yards (17,072) while at Hawaii (Pacific Islander and of Chinese descent)

• Ken Niumatalolo: Navy coach (Pacific Islander)


Troy Polamalu announced his retirement last month after 12 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and won the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.


• Roman Gabriel: former NFL quarterback, primarily with the Rams and the Eagles (of Filipino descent)

Haloti Ngata: All-Pro defensive tackle with the Ravens who is now with the Lions (Pacific Islander)

• Hines Ward: former Steelers wide receiver and Super Bowl XL MVP (mother is Korean)


Don Wakamatsu in 2009 became the first person of Asian descent to manage a major league team. He was fired two-thirds of the way through his second season with the Mariners. As a major league player, Wakamatsu, who is of Japanese descent and whose father was born in a relocation camp during World War II, was a catcher.


Kolten Wong: Cardinals infielder (Pacific Islander of Chinese descent)

Hank Conger: Astros catcher (of Korean descent)

Kurt Suzuki: Twins catcher (of Japanese descent)

Travis Ishikawa: Giants utilityman (of Japanese descent)

• Ron Darling: former New York Mets pitcher, member of the 1986 World Series-champion team (born in Hawaii, mother is of Hawaiian-Chinese descent)

Jeremy Guthrie: winner of Game 3 of the 2014 World Series (mother is Japanese-American)


• Lee Nguyen: New England Revolution and U.S. national team midfielder (of Vietnamese descent)

• Brian Ching: former MLS and U.S. national team forward (Pacific Islander of Chinese descent)


Devin Setoguchi: longtime NHL forward, most recently with Calgary Flames (of Japanese descent)

• Paul Kariya: former NHL forward (primarily with Anaheim) and 1993 Hobey Baker Award winner (of Japanese descent)

Matt Dumba: Minnesota Wild defenseman (of Filipino descent)

• Julie Chu: U.S. Olympic women’s forward, won four Olympic medals (of Chinese descent)


Sim Bhullar: Sacramento Kings center (of Indian descent)

• Erik Spoelstra: Miami Heat coach (of Filipino descent)

Jeremy Lin: Los Angeles Lakers guard (of Taiwanese descent)

Olympic sports

• Michelle Kwan: former world figure skating champion (of Chinese descent)

• Apolo Ohno: two-time Olympic gold medalist in short-track speed skating (of Japanese descent)

• Kristi Yamaguchi: 1992 Olympic figure skating gold medalist (of Japanese descent)

Other sports

• B.J. Penn: former MMA champion (mother is Korean-American)

• Kyle Larson: 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie of the year (mother is Japanese-American)

Notable firsts or achievements

Kariya, Spoelstra and Bhullar all achieved firsts in their respective sports. Kariya was the first player of Asian descent to win the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top college hockey player. Spoelstra was the first Asian-American coach in the NBA, and Bhullar was the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA.


• Sammy Lee: first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal (diving, 1948 Olympics)

• Michael Chang: first U.S. man to win the French Open singles title in 34 years when he won in 1989

• Masanori "Mashi" Murakami: former Giants pitcher was the first Japanese player to play in the major leagues

• Wally Yonamine: first Asian-American to play pro football, with the 49ers

• Wataru Misaka: first player of Asian-American descent in the Basketball Association of America, the NBA’s prescursor, with the Knicks in 1947

• Larry Kwong: first person of Asian ancestry to play in NHL, with the Rangers (1947-48)