For those of you who don't know of Coach Les Murakami, he is believed to be the first Asian American head coach of a Division I team in a major college sport. His story of starting a college baseball team from scratch and becoming a national power, is stuff of legends. He is a living legend in Hawaii with the University of Hawaii's Baseball Stadium named after him. I sat down to talk with him and his wife Dot last summer, about how it was like starting off and if he could relate to a 6'4" 205 pound Asian American kid, Jeremy Lin, about to start his journey in the NBA.
There were three things that really stood out during our conversation. First, Coach Les said that Jeremy needed someone in the Warriors organization who was looking out for him. Wow, did that one ever come to fruition. Without Warrior owner Joe Lacob and his son Kirk, who JLin played against growing up during AAU ball, Jeremy would surely still be in the D-League with a much harder route just getting on to the floor in an NBA game. Coach said you gotta have someone watching your back and related it to some of the Asian Americans making it in major league baseball, like Kurt Suzuki.
The second thing came from his wife Dot, who said that her husband was so confident in himself and his ability to Coach, that you could even consider him borderline cocky. I was not sure how this could relate to Jeremy as I thought of him as a goody two shoes type. However, after hearing JLin say he was cocky as a kid growing up and playing AAU ball, there was another common thread. Again, anyone playing or coaching at a Division I college or in the pros, has to have so much confidence in themselves to compete with the best of the best. I believe Jeremy has that cockiness in him but keeps it close to the vest. I'd actually love for him to let some of that swag out.
Lastly, the thing that stuck with me the most was how they are both dreamers. Coach Les dreamed of building a winning program that could play with the USC's of the world, and to ultimately win the College World Series. He got oh so close, losing 5-3 in the 1980 College World Series final to Arizona after beating Florida State, St. Johns, and Miami. When I later heard Jeremy say his dream is to get into an NBA rotation, become a starter, and then win a championship, I said yes, this kid has got what it takes to be a pioneer for Asian Americans in the NBA. He is in the mold of a living Asian American Sports Icon, Coach Les Murakami.