hy have Asian sports stars in the U.S. inspired so much excitement ?
     For one, their athletic prowess strikes at the heart of hoary stereotypes about Asian physiques. And the non-denominational respect and admiration they inspire disproves Hollywood's excuse that Asian stars can't appeal to a broad cross-section of Americans.
     We considered the Asians who have risen to the upper ranks of major sports, and chose the 20 who have had the most positive impact on the American consciousness. Along with Asian Americans, we've included athletes from Asia who have chosen to make their fortunes performing for American fans. This list isn't comprehensive, and we will be expanding it from time to time as other Asian athletes attain prominence in the American sports scene.


The athletes who have done most to bring Asians into the American sports spotlight.


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1. Seattle Mariners Rightfielder/Leadoff Batter Ichiro Suzuki
Ichiro Suzuki      Ichiro Suzuki's 2001 debut as a Mariner triggered the kind of transpacific media frenzy reserved for chart-topping rock stars, including $2-million offers to pose in the nude. American fans soon saw why: his apparent ability to slap a pitch anywhere he pleases. Experts marveled at how his 5-9, 160-pound frame seems to pack the ideal combination of powe and finesse to inspire winning rallies by stymying even the most hulking fastballers. He became the first player ever to get 450 hits in his first two MLB seaons. Each Ichiro at-bat remains a seismic event that sends a shockwave of expectation through the stands.
2. Houston Rockets Center Yao Ming
Yao Ming      What initially tickled the fancy was the idea of someone to slap down the stereotype of the vertically challenged Asian. What makes Yao Ming so big isn't his 7-6 height but his innocently joyous grin of a pure basketball player in the face of a media circus never before inflicted on an NBA first-round draft pick. Within weeks of his 2002-3 season debut Yao Ming made jackasses of skeptics with his graceful skyhooks, prescient defensive moves and the heart to break the ego barrier to bond with Steve "Franchise" Francis. Hope runs high that Yao is an Olajuwon who can put the Rockets back in touch with its championship heritage.
3. Dallas Cowboys Middle Linebacker Dat Nguyen
Dat Nguyen      Dat Nguyen would never claim credit for the NFL's biggest defensive turnaround of 2001, but that's what many Cowboys fans believe the Aggie record-setter did in his first full pro season as starting middle linebacker. You can't blame 'em. Nguyen's ability to read plays coupled with an unsparing hitting style is not only closing on Dallas records, but shattering the size myth that once dogged the 5-11 Nguyen. He's living proof that Asians can compete in the arena with the biggest and toughest of men.


4. Dodgers Starting Pitcher Hideo Nomo
Hideo Nomo      Hideo Nomo made baseball history in 1995 when he became the first Japanese starting pitcher in the majors. His martian windup and wicked splitters baffled opposing batters and inspired Dodgers fans, winning him a controversial Rookie of the Year title and giving birth to Nomomania. By 1998 all that had become a dim memory as Nomo's career went into a tailspin. But on April 4 of 2001 Nomo signaled better days to come with a no-hitter in his debut with the Red Sox. In his second incarnation as a Dodger the taciturn Nomo earned the nickname "The Warrior" by pulling out a string of tough games for his slumping team. But the Warrior isn't all war and no love. During his second MLB season the Japanese media played up his extramarital affair with a TV anchor.
5. Tennis Champion Michael Chang
Michael Chang      The awkwardly long twilight makes it easy to deride Michael Chang's career. But tennis fans who watched Chang in his prime recall the excitement he inspired by becoming the first pro athlete to achieve stardom as an Asian American male. Chang's fighting spirit and relentless court coverage helped him become the youngest man ever to win a match at the U.S. Open (15) and the youngest man ever (and the first American in 39 years) to win the French Open (17 years, 3 months). He has also won more career titles (34) than any man 5-8 and under.
6. NHL Left Wing Paul Kariya
Paul Kariya      As the NHL's quickest skater and a perennial scoring leader, Japanese Canadian Paul Kariya shows that Asian men can shine in the rough and tumble of the world's most brutal sport. His dazzling speed and convincing stats are even more impressive when paired with his unequaled modesty. He sealed his reputation as a team captain by captaining the Anaheim Ducks' near-miraculous cinderella climb to the 2003 Stanley-Cup finals. PAGE 2

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