The top 10 Asian American sports stars of 2011

By Jason J. Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

It’s that time to reflect on the past year in Asian American sports. Our annual top 10 list includes many familiar names, as well as welcome additions.

Ironically, three notable accomplishments last year came to an abrupt end this year. Jeremy Lin became the first Taiwanese American to play in the NBA but was demoted to the minor leagues (NBDL). He was then cut prior to the start of the NBA preseason this year. Former NFL lineman Ed Wang, the first full-blooded Chinese American to be drafted into the NFL, was cut by the Buffalo Bills earlier this football season. He played in just six games in 2010.

Finally, Rich Cho, the first Asian American general manager of a major sports team, was fired after just one season with the Portland Trail Blazers. Fortunately, Lin and Cho have found new jobs. We hope Wang gets another shot next year.

Special mention goes to Manny Pacquiao, KJ Choi, Li Na, and Yani Tseng. While their accomplishments in their respective sports are admirable, their names do not make this list as we focus on Asian American and Pacific Islander accomplishments, particularly those with Pacific Northwest connections.

10. Nam Phan — opinionated, outspoken, and a fighter. The Vietnamese American is an up-and-coming mixed martial artist in the UFC. His last victory in October earned him a fight night bonus and an early return to the octagon for a fight on Dec. 30.

9. Jeremy Lin — cut by the Golden State Warriors, the Taiwanese American guard was quickly (but briefly) picked up by the Houston Rockets before they let him go. He was finally scooped up by the Knicks. Lin played sparingly last year as he averaged less than three points a game and played in only 29 games for the Warriors. Here’s hoping for more playing time for Lin in 2012.

8. Rich Cho — although he was dismissed by the Portland Trail Blazers after just one year, Cho landed on his feet with the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats. Cho will work for owner Michael Jordan in trying to help the team return to the playoffs.

7. Troy Polamalu — the hard-hitting safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers is having another All-Pro year. Although the NFL strike delayed time for players to prepare, Polamalu utilized his time away from the football field to finish his degree in history at the University of Southern California.

6. Karen Bryant — the Seattle Storm president and CEO was awarded Sports Executive of the Year by the Seattle Sports Commission. The award goes to an individual for contributions to the success of the regional sports industry. She was given the award at the annual Sports Star of the Year banquet in January. Bryant, who is part Filipino, was awarded for her part in building the Seattle Storm to a WNBA Championship in 2010.

5. Benson Henderson — the UFC’s “Smooth” is on a roll. After a surprising loss last December, the native of Federal Way, won three fights in a row. He is set to fight for the lightweight title in Japan. Recently, Henderson had the opportunity to travel to Korea, where he visited family he had never met.

4. Alameda Ta’amu — the Rainier Beach High School graduate manned the middle of the University of Washington’s defensive line. The senior’s power and technique made him an All Pac-12 selection, as well as a potential first-round pick in this spring’s NFL draft.

3. Nonito Donaire — “The Filipino Flash” continued his dominance of boxing’s bantamweight (122 pound) division with two more convincing wins this year. His February knockout of Fernando Montiel earned Donaire Sports Illustrated’s knockout of the year. Could this be another Manny Pacquiao in the making?

2. Denise Dy — the University of Washington senior had a career year on the tennis court. Dy traveled to Palemburg, Indonesia, to compete in the Southeast Asia Games this fall. The Filipino American and her mixed doubles partner, representing the Philippines, played an Indonesian duo for the gold medal. “Oh, wow. Oh, wow,” Dy told of the environment. “In that final, there were like 12 Filipinos cheering for us, versus 8,000 Indonesians. For the games in those countries, it is basically the Olympics.”

Despite the adverse conditions, Dy and her partner won gold for the Philippines. It was one of the few gold medals taken home by the Philippines at the Games.

In addition to her international play, Dy and her doubles partner, Venise Chan, led the Husky tennis team to a national ranking in 2011. As leaders of the team in 2012, they will aim to keep the women’s squad nationally ranked.

1. Apolo Anton Ohno — the short track speed skater ran his first marathon this year. Not only did Ohno complete the New York Marathon in 3 hours and 25 minutes, he raised $26,000 for the Special Olympics for his efforts.

Ohno also showed off his body to his fans, posing in the annual ESPN Magazine Body Issue; he bared almost all to the camera. Outside of sports, the former Dancing with the Stars winner gained endorsement deals with Subway and Oreo cookies. (end)

Jason Cruz can be reached at

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