The Layup Drill — Year in Review: The Top 10 Asian American Sports Figures of 2012

By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

2012 Year in Review

2012 was a great year for Asian American athletes.  Despite a strike-shortened regular season, the NBA had major excitement, thanks to the rise of a Taiwanese American point guard from Harvard. The NBA championship series was won by the Miami Heat, coached by Filipino American Erik Spoelstra. The Summer Olympics were held in London, where Asian American athletes won medals, including Bremerton’s Nathan Adrian, whose mother is Chinese.

The year also saw the rise of young Asian golfers qualifying for major tournaments at an age when most would be happy to be getting their driver’s permit. Andy Zhang had the opportunity to play in the U.S. Open golf tournament at the age of 14. Another 14-year-old, Guan Tianlang, played in The Masters. Lydia Ko, at 15, became one of the youngest ever to win a Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) event. University of Washington golfer Cheng-Tsun Pan had a good year on the team as a freshman, ranking in the top 15 amateur golfers nationally. Finally, Taiwanese golfer Yani Tseng was voted one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” for 2012 by Time Magazine. Tseng won 3 LPGA events in 2012.

It was not a good year for Manny Pacquiao, however. Coming off of a controversial loss to Timothy Bradley in June, Pacquiao faced his arch nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez in December. It was their fourth fight against each other and many expect a fifth. If his fans thought Pacquiao was Superman, Marquez is his kryptonite. In a brutal fight that saw both men knocked down, Marquez scored a final knock-out on Pacquiao with one second to go in the 6th round. Pacquiao lay motionless, face down on the canvas. It was a scary moment for fans.

With two losses this year, Pacquiao’s famed invincibility is now gone. While it’s likely that he’ll return to the ring, we do not know if he’ll ever be the same. At 34 years old, one must question how much longer he could (or should) continue in the ring.

Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the New York Yankees this summer. A longtime Mariner and face of the franchise, Suzuki requested a trade from Seattle to play for a contender. In July, he was traded to the New York Yankees. Ironically, the Yankees were in town to play the Mariners when the trade occurred. A change of scenery seemed to help Ichiro as his batting average went up and he helped the Yankees make the playoffs. Ichiro will likely finish his career in New York.

In May, the Chinese women’s national basketball team visited Seattle to prepare for the Summer Olympics. The team played an exhibition game against the U.S. Women’s National team at the KeyArena.

Top 10 of 2012

Honorable mentions go out to UFC Fighter Cung Le, who is still fighting at age 40 and was in the movie “The Man with the Iron Fists;” Summer Olympics bronze medalist swimmer Natalie Coughlin, who is quarter Filipino; and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who is part Filipino. Baldwin has helped rookie quarterback Russell Wilson this season in getting the team to the playoffs.

And without further ado, the top 10 Asian Pacific American athletes of 2012:

Tim Lincecum

10.  Tim Lincecum, Major League Baseball pitcher — Lincecum, who is part Filipino, was converted to a relief pitcher in the baseball postseason and played a key role for the Giants in the playoffs. Although the San Francisco Giants pitcher did not have as dominant a year as he has in past years, he still helped the Giants win the World Series.

Kyla Ross

9.  Kyla Ross, U.S. Olympic gymnast — Ross was part of the “Fierce Five” or “Fab Five” — comprised of the five gymnasts that won the second team gold medal in the history of U.S. women’s gymnastics.  Ross, who is part Filipina and Japanese, contributed to the U.S. women’s team gold medal in London with her work on the uneven bars and beam.

Clarissa Chung

8.  Clarissa Chung, U.S. Olympic Women’s Wrestling — Another big winner in the London Games was Chung, as she won bronze in the 105-pound weight division of women’s wrestling. Chung was the only member of the women’s team to earn a medal.

Benson Henderson

7. Benson Henderson, Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) Fighter — Henderson made his triumphant return to Seattle by defending his UFC Lightweight title against Nate Diaz on Dec. 8. The Decatur High School graduate wore a Gary Payton Seattle Supersonics throwback to the weigh-ins the day before his bout, drawing cheers from the hometown crowd.  Originally from Federal Way, Henderson, who is half Korean, is one of the top mixed martial arts fighters in the world today.

Tamari Miyashiro

6.  Tamari Miyashiro, U.S. Olympic Women’s Volleyball — The former University of Washington volleyballer won a silver medal with her U.S. teammates in London. Known for her defense on the volleyball court, she has been playing with the U.S. National team since 2010. Originally from Hawaii, Miyashiro has followed her mother, who played college volleyball.

Nonito Donaire

5.  Nonito Donaire, Boxer, — “The Filipino Flash” has been considered the Fighter of the Year by many writers and media in the boxing world. Donaire was undefeated in four fights this year against top talent. He also conducts self-imposed drug testing to show the world that he is free of performance enhancing drugs. This transparency has drawn praise by those in boxing that do not feel the sport is doing enough to address concerns of cheating in the sport. With the downfall of Manny Pacquiao, Donaire is well aware that many are looking to him to carry on the torch for Filipino boxing fans.

Erik Spoelstra

4. Erik Spoelstra, NBA Coach — If you coach a team to an NBA Championship, you get included on this list.  Spoelstra, who is part Filipino, coached the LeBron James-led Miami Heat in beating the Oklahoma City Thunder (remember those guys?) this past June to win the championship. Spoelstra, 42, is the first Asian American to head coach a team in one of the major American sports leagues (which includes the NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB) and is the first to win an NBA Championship. It helps to have James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh on the team. But Spoelstra managed egos and media scrutiny to win the NBA world title, keeping it away from the former Sonics.

Manti Te’o

3.  Manti Te’o, College Football — The senior linebacker from Notre Dame finished second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. An unprecedented feat for a defensive player considering the award is primarily won by offensive players. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won the award.

Te’o is a Samoan American from Hawaii that chose the Catholic school in the Midwest, despite being Mormon and from the islands. Although he did not receive the Heisman, he earned more awards than any other defensive player in college football history. Among the awards is the Maxwell Award given to the best player in college football, as judged by sportswriters, sportscasters and NCAA head coaches.

Nathan Adrian

2.  Nathan Adrian, U.S. Olympic Swimming — While most fans of swimming for the Summer Olympics look for Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in London, Nathan Adrian became a shining star this year. Adrian, whose mother is Chinese, had a commercial that ran during the Olympics featuring his mother in which she described herself as a “Tiger Mom.” The Bremerton native won two gold medals and one silver at the Summer Olympics. He won individual gold in the 100-meter event and was part of the 4×100 meter medley relay featuring Phelps. Notwithstanding the attention received by Phelps and Lochte, Adrian impressed at the pool this summer. After the Olympics, the city of Bremerton declared August 27, 2012, “Nathan Adrian Day” to celebrate its native son’s achievement.

Jeremy Lin

1.  Jeremy Lin — For a stretch in February, Jeremy Lin was the NBA.  SportsCenter (and fans) went nuts over the story of an undrafted Asian American kid that slept on his brother’s couch because he did not know if he’d stick with the New York Knicks.

Lin’s romance with the media and New York came to an abrupt end when a knee injury kept Lin out of the playoffs. As a free agent, Lin had the opportunity to sign with any other team or stay with New York. An unreal offer from the Houston Rockets gave Lin financial security and the opportunity for change.

Despite Lin leaving the Big Apple, the New York Knicks appear to be better than it was last year and Lin’s new team is struggling. This season, Lin is still trying to find his shot, although he had a 38-point game against the San Antonio Spurs, which made everyone remember Linsanity. Poor play cannot keep Lin down, though, as he is close to making this year’s NBA All Star game, which will be in Houston.

Jeremy Lin created much more off the court than on the court. He was a worldwide sensation and cultural phenomenon. Lin made Time’s list of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” for 2012. He even had a musical produced in honor of his ascension from benchwarmer to superstar, and the NBA produced Jeremy Lin dolls sporting his likeness. Lin admirably handled the pressure and scrutiny of his celebrity status. While there has been some backlash upon receiving a three-year contract for $25 million, Lin is still a hero to many Asian American kids with a dream of playing in the NBA. (end)

Jason Cruz can be reached at

5 Responses to “The Layup Drill — Year in Review: The Top 10 Asian American Sports Figures of 2012”

  1. Alexandra says:

    Honorable mention should be given to the Asian-Americans that make up the majority of the U.S. Men’s Foil Fencing Team (incl. their captain) who finished fourth in their first Olympics at London, despite their extreme youth and relative lack of experience compared to the top 3. Watch out, 2016!!


  1. […] Asian Weekly put out a list of its Top 10 Asian-American sports figures of 2012. […]

  2. […] My annual end of the year review in the NW Asian Weekly. […]

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