This is Wataru “Wat” Misaka. Wat played on the University of Utah basketball teams that won the NIT and NCAA Championships. He was also the first minority to play in the NBA (known as the BAA in 1947). And he did it as a Japanese American in 1947 - just a few years after World War 2 ended.
But I am not writing this because he played professional basketball. You see, the Wat I knew was already well past his playing days. But his impact on my life was still great.
Here are some things I encountered over the years in my friendship with him:
I met Wat almost 20 years ago when he and his wife drove to California from Utah to attend our 3 on 3 basketball tournament. He drove even though I offered to pay for airfare. He even brought me a University of Utah golf towel which I hang in my office. He came all this distance, paid his own way and brought me a gift to show appreciation. Appreciation for what? I don’t know. I didn't do anything.
He offered to sign a basketball to give away as a prize and Michi said she watched him spend a couple of minutes to sign it. Why so long? He wanted it to look good for whoever would receive it. While most celebrities take a few seconds to scribble a name, he gave so much care.
A few years later, I was asked to speak at his church in Utah. After service, I saw him waiting to talk to me. His first words to me were, “Hi Scott, I don't know if you remember me but my name is Wat.” Such a humble man who didn’t assume everyone should know who he was.
So a few years ago, Wat’s pastor shared with me that Wat wasn’t doing so well and he didn’t know if Wat had ever asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. Well, a little while later, my family happened to be driving through Utah so I called and asked if we could visit. So we stopped by and after some time catching up, I shared with Wat that Jesus loves Him and wants to have a relationship with Him. All he had to do was to ask Jesus to come into his life. And then Wat’s wife, Katie, says from the kitchen, “Wat accepted Christ last Christmas!” I said, “You did? Awesome!” So after a little while, we left and continued our road trip.
And then a year or so later, I asked if Wat would like to make a Play4Him video. We flew to Utah to meet with Wat and record his story. Sadly, by then, his memory was already fading and Wat could not recall many of the details I was hoping to record. He did recall winning the NCAA and NIT Championships and being drafted by the New York Knicks. He shared stories of teammates and coaches and even being offered a spot on the Harlem Globetrotters. But when I asked him about his relationship with Jesus, he could not remember many details. At this point, the video became secondary and I just wanted to make sure that Wat really had accepted Jesus into his life. He said he was not sure and respectfully declined any invitations that day.
I went home sad. Not because we didn’t make a video. But because I didn’t know if this wonderful man had ever made the one decision that would impact his eternity.
And then eight months later, I heard that he had passed away.
But I received a text from Wat’s daughter, Nancy, saying she had some news to share with me.
She said something amazing happened on what turned out to be Wat’s last day on Earth. Wat’s pastor, Brad, went to visit Wat and shared the Gospel. Brad prayed for Wat and Wat thanked Brad in a very heartfelt way. Soon, Wat’s neighbor came to visit and she said to Wat, “You look very calm.” Wat replied, “I am calm. I talked to Jesus today.” Nancy said her father never said things like that. Wat then added, "Well, He did the talking. He said that He was in control and that everything was going to be alright." Wat also said that he wasn’t going to be around much longer. He said the same thing to other visitors that day.
Later that night, Wat passed away peacefully in his sleep.
Wat lived a long and amazing life. And he is now enjoying his eternity in Heaven with Katie. And he is not there because of anything he did on the basketball court in 1947.
It’s because of what Jesus did 2000 years ago on the cross.
And the decision Wat made to accept His free gift.
Where you spend eternity is up to you. Jesus already did the difficult part.
Will you make the one decision that will guarantee you peace forever?