When you tell someone they can’t do something, they either agree with you and quit or they flip you off and say, “watch me.” For natural-born competitor Natalie Nakase, shattering norms and stereotypes is nothing new as she’s always game for a good challenge. Staying focused, being prepared, and not worrying about what anyone else has to say is the gospel she lives by.
Natalie’s ultimate goal is to become a head coach in the NBA and seems to be manifesting each step of the journey on her own. She recognizes the stones that need to be stepped on and actually relishes in the process, soaking up game along the way. As if that player’s mentality never really leaves us, Natalie is ready to perform whenever her number is called, “The beauty about coaching in the NBA is that everyone has their own path. I’ve learned to be prepared for that next level so in my situation, I need to be ready this year to be able to coach. It’s always about preparation, being ready, and whatever opportunities given to you, you have to kill it.”
That attitude and work ethic, instilled by her father, is undeniable. As I rolled up to the Nakase house to shoot the shit over pizza, she was in the backyard with her pops, Gary Nakase, and nephew, Kaysen, running little man through some drills. Grandpa rebounds, Natalie passes, Kaysen shoots; a well oiled machine indeed. Gary had trained his three little girls as boys but the habit of hard work is applicable to everyone, “When I was young, my dad always pushed me to be the best. He said I had to work the hardest and it was something I had to drive from within myself to be the best. Whatever my dad told us I believed him.”
One thing she didn’t believe is when he first expressed his doubts about a head coaching gig. As Gary stated, “Being a woman trying to coach in the the NBA, I thought would be impossible but she has proven me wrong. I am sure glad she did.” If her own father can’t suggest an alternate career choice it’s laughable to think anyone else can, as Natalie chimes in, “My end goal is to be a head coach. I know it’s going to be tough but I think that is part of the beauty of doing things, is to make it tough and to make people believe in the things that are impossible.”
Natalie has since been promoted to assistant coach of the Los Angeles Clippers from an assistant on the G-League affiliate, Agua Caliente Clippers. As we are about to park at the Clippers practice facility for an off-season workout, she pauses as Suga Free comes on the radio and turns up the volume. “If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready” blasts from the Tesla and before the song finishes she cuts it off, “alright enough, let’s get to work!” Sounding like a head coach already.
Special Thanks : The Nakase Family, Zen Sekizawa , John Takenaka , Dee Yaz , Scott Takai , Los Angeles Clippers, Agua Caliente Clippers, Little Tokyo Service Center.