API Athletes Brought Their A-Game in 2022

NBA Rookies

J. Lin walked so Jaylin could run. This summer, Williams became the first player of Vietnamese descent to be drafted into the NBA. And he was the only Asian American picked this year—the Oklahoma Thunder selected the Arkansas forward 34th overall.

Fellow Viet American Johnny Juzang went undrafted, but made the Utah Jazz on a two-way contract, allowing the former University of California, Los Angeles standout to split his time between the NBA and G League.

Other promising newcomers still looking for an NBA home include Filipino 7’2” giant Kai Sotto, Chinese-born blue chipper Fanbo Zeng and Korean second-generation baller Lee Hyun-jung.

In July 2021, Jalen Green shattered glass ceilings and 10-foot rims as the highest drafted Asian American player in NBA history. The Filipino American guard was picked second overall by the Houston Rockets.

King of the Ring

The scariest boxer since Mike Tyson is a diminutive Japan-born 118 pounder. “The Monster” Naoya Inoue was crowned the Ring Magazine’s pound-for-pound king in June after demolishing Filipino American legend Nonito Donaire in just two rounds.

But he received some help from Russian boxer Dmitry Bivol—whose mother is Korean—after the light heavyweight dominated former number one boxer Canelo Alvarez
in May.

The final bell rang for former world champion and Olympic medalist Amir Khan outside the ring. The Pakistani Brit boxer announced his retirement in May

NFL Strongholds

Who needs self-driving cars when Korean-born placekicker Younghoe Koo was virtually automatic in the 2021-22 NFL season? The Atlanta Falcons star made 93.1% of his 2021 field goal attempts, including four out of five attempts from 50 or more yards. Koo cashed in on his golden leg at the end of the season, inking a five-year, $24.25 million contract.

Meanwhile, Kyler Murray—whos maternal grandmother is Korean—continued his ascent as one of the NFL’s top rising play callers this year, making his second straight Pro Bowl and signing a massive five-year, $230.5 million contract. The Arizona Cardinals quarterback also led his team to its first playoff appearance since 2015.

College Football Waves

South Bend, or South Korea? Notre Dame University’s storied football program boasts no shortage of Asian American faces. Safety Kyle Hamilton, the team’s best player in the 2021-22 season, proudly reps his Afro-Korean heritage and frequently platformed the Stop AAPI Hate movement during the uptick of anti-Asian violence after the COVID-19 pandemic. In April of this year, he was drafted 14th overall in the NFL draft to the Baltimore Ravens.

Notre Dame football kicked off this season with a new head coach and starting quarterback—both of Korean American descent. At just age 36, Marcus Freeman—who is also Afro-Korean—replaced Brian Kelly on the sidelines after the long-time guru left for Louisiana State University. He soon named Tyler Buchner, who is Korean and white American, his starting quarterback.

But the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were never short of fighting Korean Americans. Long-time placekicker Justin Yoon, who graduated in 2018, is the program’s all-time scoring leader.

Winter Wins

For athletes going downhill, Chloe Kim and Eileen Gu have their best still in store. The college-age Asian American stars dominated the slopes in their respective sports, leaving the closing ceremony as the undisputed co-MVPs of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Korean American snowboarder Chloe Kim turned the impossible into the “Kimpossible” as the first two-time gold medalist in women’s halfpipe, thanks to a brilliant performance at this past winter’s Beijing Olympics. Not bad, especially when you remember that she’s barely old enough to drink.

After the games, Kim announced she’s taking a hiatus from the slopes for her mental health. But keep her medals (metaphorically) warm—she’s coming back for a potential third gold at the 2026 Winter Games in Italy.

But while one Asian American star defended her throne in Beijing, another athlete ascended to her own. At just 18 years old, Gu was crowned the youngest gold medalist in freestyle skiing in Olympics history. The Bay Area-born champion, who competed on behalf of her mother’s native China, finished first in both women’s big air and halfpipe and second in slopestyle.

On the men’s side, figure skater Nathan Chen brought home a pair of medals on the rink, including a gold in the singles competition. The “Quad King” hasn’t broken the ice yet on whether he’ll be back in 2026, but he’s already one of the sport’s greatest.

Two Words: Shohei Ohtani

In November of 2021, the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani won his first, and almost certainly not his last, MVP award. The Japanese star is almost impossible to quantify positionally, becoming the first player ever to start for the American League as both a pitcher and designated hitter in the All-Star game.

This article appeared in Character Media’s Annual 2022 Issue.
Read our full e-magazine here.