Natalie Nakase and emcee David Ono conduct a drawing during GFBNEC's Evening of Aloha. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
Natalie Nakase and emcee David Ono conduct a drawing during GFBNEC’s Evening of Aloha. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Rafu Staff Report

Natalie Nakase was the keynote speaker at Go For Broke National Education Center’s 14th annual Evening of Aloha gala dinner, held Sept. 19 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites in Los Angeles.

Emcee David Ono of ABC7 Eyewitness News said, “Natalie Nakase isn’t a household name just yet. Standing just over 5 feet tall, she was a three-year star for the UCLA women’s basketball team. She was the first Asian American player in the National Women’s Basketball League, playing for the San Jose Spiders in 2005 and the San Diego Siege in 2006.

“A woman coaching in the male-dominated culture of Japan, can you imagine that? … She was an assistant coach for the Tokyo Apache … That is the country’s highest level of men’s professional basketball. The following year she was the league’s first woman head coach as she took the helm of the Saitama Broncos.

“Today she’s an assistant video coordinator for the Los Angeles Clippers … the same spot from which Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, Indiana’s Frank Vogel and former Lakers coach Mike Brown all began their climb to a head coaching positions. So her goal is to become a head coach in the NBA.”

Following is an edited version of Nakase’s speech.

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This is truly an incredible honor to be here. Several months ago, (GFBNEC President) Don Nose called me about being the keynote speaker for the gala dinner. (I said) “Are you sure you called the right person?” Because all I want to do is become an NBA head coach, a career that is incomparable to what these veterans have accomplished for us.

These veterans have sacrificed their lives to create a better world for us. They were willing to die to create possibilities and opportunities. Because of them, I stand here before you with the opportunity to dream … to attack my dream fearlessly … So thank you to all the veterans tonight for your selfless courage, your humility, your loyalty, and for representing the true meaning of sacrifice. Thank you.

I want to thank my family … My parents couldn’t make it tonight, but without them I wouldn’t be here … The one thing I want to say about my dad (Gary) is he is the hardest-working person I have ever met, and he actually said that about his father as well. So it’s in our blood to work hard. It’s the Japanese way. I’m proud of that and we must continue to embrace it.

I want to thank my mom (Debra) … She is one of the most genuine people in the world. She taught me to love. One of my favorite quotes about love is: “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage” … I believe love is the greatest power in the universe. So thank you, Mom, for teaching me.

My two older sisters, Nicola and Norie, are in attendance tonight … Thank you for all your support. I actually can’t believe I’m going tell people this, but thank you for all the times you would beat me up on the basketball court … We’re all 5’1”, 5’2” on average. But when we were younger, for some reason I was like a foot shorter than them. So when we would play one-on-one, they would always block my shot and they would kill me. So for me, I would figure out ways to beat them because I hated to lose … I developed a competitive nature and a competitive drive because of my sisters, so thank you …

Tonight I want to share with you how to reach your goals and your dreams. As you know, my career goal is to be an NBA head coach … but in order for me to accomplish this uncommon goal, I had to make changes in my life. I had to change my habits. I knew if I wanted to be the next Doc Rivers or the next Gregg Popovich, I had to start thinking like them and behaving like them.

(J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
“In order to reach your goals, you must believe in yourself,” Natalie Nakase told the audience. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

So my first step was to eliminate all distractions that didn’t fit into my goal. So whatever wasted energy I was doing at that time, it was time to get rid of it. So to all of you youth out there, I deleted my Facebook and I deleted my Instagram … because to me, I never saw value in how it could benefit me as a head coach. I told myself, “Well, Doc and Pop don’t have one. I don’t need it either.” …

My second step was I had to eliminate any friends who didn’t believe in my goal or who didn’t have a similar mindset. I know it sounds extreme, but … I wanted to be surrounded by people who are smarter than me and who can challenge me on a daily basis.

My third step — now pay attention — was replacing TV with reading books. I wanted to keep feeding my brain with information and learn how to help players. I read any book about the mind and how to build relationships. Coaching is about developing and maintaining strong relationships, and I wanted to be the best. I also found out that Doc is a avid reader, so that motivated me to read even more …

I haven’t shared this with many people other than my family, so please don’t say anything, but as of last week, Doc pulled me into his office and he actually has changed my position for this year. I went from assistant video coordinator to player development coach and video …

In order to reach your goals, you must believe in yourself. Period. No one has to believe in yourself but you. A short story I want to share with you guys tonight … My first year with the Clippers, I’m not going to mention his name, but he’s one of our top players … He said, “Okay, Nat, you can do video, but what else do you want to do? What do you want to do after that?” I said, “I want to coach.” He just chuckled and he said, “Well, it’s going to be difficult for you to get any player to listen to you.” … At that point, I actually put an “X” on his back. He was my target, my target to prove to him I could coach in the NBA.

So fast-forward three years … A couple of months ago in Houston in the playoffs, I was just coming off the floor with one of our players, Baby, a.k.a. Glen Davis … getting him ready for the game … He goes, “Nat, you’re gonna be a great WNBA coach someday.” … The player that I mentioned before, he was like, “Well, that’s sexist, Baby. She could be an NBA coach and she’s going to be a great NBA coach someday.” (Baby) goes, “Okay, I’m sorry.”

But right at that moment I knew that three years later I got him to believe that I could coach, and it was a huge confidence-builder for me. Lesson learned is that, again, you’re going to have family and you’re going to have friends who are not going to believe your goals at certain times. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you believe in your goal.

It’s going to be tough and you’re going to fail over and over again. I have failed way more than I’ve succeeded. But … you’ve got to keep trying, and again you have to believe in yourself.

My last thing is my career goal is to be an NBA coach, but my dream and purpose in life is to help and serve others. So today’s youth out there, it is your responsibility to make this world better.

So tonight, before you go to bed, I want you to write down your dream and three things you’re willing to sacrifice for it. Because I guarantee it, if you make sacrifices, big dreams come true. Thank you.

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