Standing Out as an Asian Basketball Player

I always stood out because I looked so different from everyone else on the team… which reflects the common portrayal by mass media of Asians as sidekicks, even though this is changing.

Issac on standing out as an Asian basketball player.

I did my undergrad in London and then moved to Oxford for masters. I used to shuttle between London and Singapore as I used to train with the Singaporean basketball team. In the UK, people were always surprised to learn that I am a sportsperson due to them having the notion that Asians are hardworking and corporate career oriented.

I always stood out because I looked so different from everyone else on the team whenever we travelled for games. I experienced this in many places, and I think it isn’t idea because it reflects the common portrayal by mass media of Asians as sidekicks. This mono dimensional projection easily translates to their perspective in life. The sport really helped me integrate and assimilate because of the nature of team sports.

I started working at a basketball start-up with the sole intention of spreading the love for the game. It is a content delivery service which assists players in the UK with their scholarship applications and to gain greater visibility. In candid conversations with friends, I realised that Asians are perceived as people who do not contribute to the community and there is a negative reaction to their absence in the social setting. During the London Olympics in 2012, I noticed that the commentator was explaining the rules of the game to spectators before the games began and this was very new for me. Before the COVID pandemic, basketball was even one of the fastest growing sports in London!

Our start-up is based in Coventry because most of our team members are from the Coventry Bible. I am currently practicing law, but I do see basketball as an integral part of my life. I met with a legal counsel of the NBA in London 2 years ago and he was very inspiring. I am hoping to build my experience and eventually break into the legal work for the NBA or the basketball industry.

Like most Asian parents, my parents were quite resistant as to alternative career paths that were not considered safe. As a kid when I had to skip 4 weeks of school to participate in the Hong Kong Basketball Tournament in Hong Kong, they were not happy at all.

I think if you do something you really want to do something, and it keeps you happy, things will generally work out. I acknowledge my privilege, about not having to worry about finances when I provide that perspective. Success to me is not letting anyone call you back and being the best version, you can be regardless of how many things you have on your plate.

I believe one should explore and exploit all talents that they have. It is common in Asian culture to keep to yourself and be conservative about it. People should give others the benefit of doubt and welcome new inputs and insights. By respecting one’s individuality, we can derive strength and grow ourselves.


Instagram: @zaackeh

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