Black Girl Strength: The Future Is Female For The Harlem Globetrotters

Meet three of the team’s top female ballers.

It’s the 2012 White House Easter Egg Roll and President Barack Obama is doing pushups on his basketball court.

It’s not what you’d expect from the President during one of the most carefree days at the Capital, but it happened, and Fatima “TNT” Lister was there to bear witness. Never in her entire basketball career did she imagine she’d see this scene in person.

As a kid growing up in Colorado Springs, TNT had dreamed of becoming a pro basketball player. She played college ball at Temple where she was coached by U.S. Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley. She traveled overseas and played two years with a pro team in Sweden. Her passion for the sport had taken her to all sorts of amazing places. But shooting hoops with America’s first Black president was outside everything she had ever envisioned.

For TNT, the fall of 2011 ushered in a whole new world of adventure and surprises. That year she took a chance and tried out for the Harlem Globetrotters, and after winning the coaches over, she became the first woman to sign with the team since 1993.

The following spring — on that jovial Easter day — the President invited the crew to play with him and a group of children visiting the White House. “I was so nervous,” Lister told the Shadow League, a little shocked by her jitters.

It was just a simple free throw game. Whoever bucketed the most walked away with the crown. But there was a bit of a twist: If you made your free throw, the kids had to do push-ups. If you missed your shot, then you had to crank them out. Lister had no real reason to be nervous because she had been sinking free throws her whole life. She knocked out her usual trickshot without a problem.

But Obama? He wasn’t so lucky. After the ball missed the net, he got down on his hands and feet, ready to take his punishment. Lister almost stopped him. Somehow it didn’t seem right to make the President do such a thing.

“I was like, ‘Ah … You don’t really have to do the pushups,’” said Lister. “But he was like ‘No, no. That’s the rules.’ I thought that was pretty cool.” It’s been six years since that unforgettable moment, and since then, Lister has played ball in over 50 different countries. She speaks to hundreds of kids, on the sidelines, at schools in hospitals all around the globe.

And this all came to be because she said “yes” to something she never thought was possible.

TNT: The Second Wave Pioneer

Most die-hard American basketball fans know this: The Harlem Globetrotters are some of the most beloved ballers in the world.

Their audiences howl and applaud as they show off their fancy handles. Fans laugh at their silly antics and clap at their mind-blowing slam dunks. It’s not uncommon for people to start smiling the moment they hear their playful and iconic whistle anthem. That’s because they know they are about to be entertained.

The Harlem Globetrotters have also been some most impactful athletes in Black history. Abe Saperstein founded the team in 1926 — a year when African American players were not allowed to play on professional basketball teams. Despite the racism that permeated much of American society, the Globetrotters’ early success on tour began to change White America’s mind. In 1948, the Globetrotters beat the Minneapolis Lakers of the newly established National Basketball Association (NBA) and two years later the NBA’s Black ban was finally lifted.

Still, as influential as the organization has been within Black civil rights, the organization has largely been focused around male athletes. That was until Naismith Hall of Famer Lynette Woodard joined the squad in 1985. Over the next five years, the Globetrotters would welcome seven more women to the team, showing that female talent was worthy of being on the Globetrotter stage.

That all came to a halt in 1993, however. The two decades that followed saw zero women on the Globetrotters’ roster. That’s why when recruiters asked Lister to tryout in 2011, she thought it was a mistake. “I had no idea a woman had ever been on the team because there had been that big gap,” she said. “I’m just really honored that they chose me.”

They did more than choose her. All of her new teammates — around 30 male athletes — welcome Lister onto the squad with open arms. During her first training camp, the guys started calling her “TNT” for her explosive playing style. Globetrotter veteran Chris “Handles” Franklin quickly became her mentor and taught her how to be a better basketball player as well as an entertainer.

Lister was wonderfully surprised by all of the support.

“I had no idea how receptive the guys were going to be because they had never played with a female on their team,” said Lister. “I had [also] never been on an all-male team so it was really this big experiment to see if it could work. Lucky for me, those guys are so professional and they really became my brothers. Without them being open to [having] new experiences, [this] probably wouldn’t have worked.”

But if the Harlem Globetrotters were already so comfortable with having a woman on the squad, why had there been that large gap in the first place?

“I think women’s basketball has had a big growth spurt,” she said. “There are a lot more outlets for women: Now there’s the WNBA, the European leagues and more colleges getting on board. So [before I signed], I think that it was difficult for the Globetrotters to find a very top-tier female to fill that void at the time — one who was not only a good basketball player but a good entertainer and a good speaker as well.”

Whatever the reasons may have been, TNT busted that gender dam back open. Today, TNT has signed her 8th contract with the squad, and now six other female basketball players have joined her on this Globetrotting journey. Two of those players have just started this season.

With TNT’s signature trick shots and her bright smile, she’s showing women and girls what’s possible in the world of basketball — including being a new mom and a badass baller. She just gave birth to her daughter 5 months ago.

“I went back to work after having a baby and I wasn’t even sure I would be able to do everything, to be honest,” Lister laughed. “So I’m so proud I was able to come back and do my thing and be able to tell my girl, ‘Hey, you can still chase your career when you become a mom.’”

Briana “Hoops” Green, who’s in her sophomore season with the Globetrotters, says that TNT has been one of the greatest pillars of support for all of the women on the team. Whether it’s teaching them the history of the organization or giving them life advice, TNT has always been there for them, Green said.

“We feel like she’s the GOAT,” said Green. “When I started looking into the Globetrotters, I knew of TNT. She’s paved the way for us.”

Hoops: The 90’s Streetball Kid

Green was one of those players who was recruited from going viral on social media. Before she broke the internet, she had already been a globetrotter of sorts. The University of Texas – El Paso grad had played professionally in the Czech Republic, Spain, and Mexico. But in 2017, Green was feeling like she needed a change.

“I was trying to figure out if I wanted to continue to play professionally overseas,” said Green. “It just so happened that I posted a video on Facebook of me dribbling, and the video went viral. Everybody was tagging the Globetrotters and how I should be on the team so a recruiter saw it and he invited me to try out.

That year she became the 15th woman to don the red, white and blue uniform in Globetrotter history. But how did Green become the ritzy player that she is today?

She’ll tell you her style stemmed from the AND1 Mixtape days in the late 90s and early 2000s when hip-hop DJs mixed music to the ebb, flow and hype of streetball games. “I used to watch [legends like] Hot Sauce and Skip to My Lou,” Green said.

Green was the type of kid who always had a basketball in her hand. She practiced hours a day to perfect the spins and fake moves she saw in those videotapes. She loved following Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson and aimed to play like her favorite players. She watched “Love and Basketball” and knew that all she wanted to do was to travel the world and compete at the highest level.

The now-28-year-old spent much of her childhood playing against boys on courts all over her hometown of Lexington, Ky. In fact, she says that’s why it hasn’t been that difficult joining the Globetrotters squad. “I’m so comfortable even now just playing with the guys,” she said.

It also wasn’t difficult for Green to switch to using a men’s ball. Today, NBA standard balls are 1 inch larger in circumference and 2 ounces heavier than what the women use in the WNBA. “I don’t think it took me that long to get used to it,” she said. “Now I’m so used to it that when I go back to workout at home and they try to give me a women’s basketball, I can’t even hold it. So now I only train with guys’ ball.”

While the ball wasn’t much of an issue, the trickiest thing for Green to learn was how to be an entertainer and a basketball player at the same time. It’s a delicate balance she has to maintain during game time.

“When I was playing overseas, it was all competitive,” she said. “You’re there to win no matter what. The Globetrotters are playing to win, but we are also there to make people have a good time. Throughout the game, you’re kind of flipping the switch. First, you’re doing your tricks and then you gotta make shots, play defense, lock-in. That was the hardest challenge for me coming into my first year.”

This is her second year with the team and Green is finding her groove. In a society that still bashes women’s basketball for being “boring”, she’s proving to thousands of people worldwide that female basketball players can be just as talented and entertaining.

“In the NBA most of the guys can dunk and they can be a lot flashier,” said Green. “But girls can do the exact same thing. I try to prove that on the court. As far as my dribbling ability, I think I can compete with the best of them. It’s important that everyone knows that women are more than capable of competing at that level — not even just with basketball, with anything.”

She says some of her favorite moments are talking to kids after the games. “I’m used to little girls looking up to another girl, but when a younger guy comes up to me and tells me that I’m their favorite basketball player, I’m like, ‘Yeah, we can do this!’” she said.

But she and her teammates also recognize that their presence on the court is more than just about proving that girls can hang. Their goal is to inspire everyone to live their best lives— regardless of gender.

When Cherelle “Torch” George puts on that Globetrotters uniform, she aims to do just that.

“Growing up in the projects, I didn’t see a lot of positive,” she said. “My mom was my only role model. That’s it. So today, I try to be the person who I needed when I was younger.”

Torch: The Miracle Who Trots Around the Globe

For George, being raised by a single mother in Reading, Pa. may have been a struggle, but basketball had always been her refuge. Mastering new tricks in the gym was her daily therapy. In fact, she got so skilled that George was even criticized for being too flashy.

“It’s so crazy because I would get in trouble,” she said. “My mom would say, ‘Quit showboatin’. Two points is two points. And now I make a living to do all the things I used to get in trouble for.”

While the Globetrotters have given George a stage to show her unique style, it has also given her basketball career a second wind. After a successful four years at Purdue University, she nearly lost everything — including her own life.

Her original plan was to make it in the WNBA or sign with a pro team overseas. She first tried out for the Indiana Fever but failed to make the roster. Soon after that, her mother passed away and George didn’t know how to handle it.

“My body was in crazy shock because it was unexpected,” she said. “Suddenly my metabolism was 10-times faster. My heartbeat was 150 beats per minute. I would wake up in a pool of sweat and I wouldn’t sleep.”

A month later she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an illness that attacks the thyroid gland. It’s a disease that’s not exactly curable. Her doctors said they would have to remove the organ completely and that she’d have to be on medication for the rest of her life. “I didn’t want that,” she said. “When they first had put me on steroids I gained 80 pounds in four months. I couldn’t play basketball. My mother was gone. I was going to go cold turkey.”

But the doctors claimed that without medication she wouldn’t survive six months.

“I told them I was already dead,” she said.

Over the next four years, George researched all she could about natural medicine and nutrition. She did acupuncture, took herbs and cut out processed foods. And while some days she felt dreadfully sick and there were many times she watched her hair started to fall out, she gradually found herself feeling better. She started shedding the weight.

And then one day she went into the doctor’s office for blood work, and her charts showed that she had completely healed. A miracle.

“When I heard that, my first thought I was, ‘Man, I got to get back into basketball,’” said George.

She didn’t know how or when, but she knew in her heart she was going to get back on the big arena.

Her chance came when she was coaching a boys’ team at a tournament in Miami. In between one of the games, she took a basketball to an open court to work on some agility drills. One of the tournament officials was actually a former Harlem Globetrotters ref and was watching her from afar. He told her she needed to submit a YouTube vid and tryout for the team.

“I was like, ‘What is he talking about? No way’,” said George, who thought the man was joking. “I totally ignored him.”

But when the ref showed up the next day and pressed her on it, George thought she should give it a try. She joined the team in 2017 and it’s a decision she has never regretted. “I pinch myself every day because of how things [have] happened,” she said.

Today, George (aka Torch) lights up every room she enters. Whether she’s cutting up people on the court or speaking behind the podium, she’s a star.

In her first season, George became the team’s Rookie of the Year and she’s now infamous for her mouthful of a move: the under-the-leg-tumble dribble. (Sexier name pending.) She also became the first female Globetrotter to earn a Guinness World record for the most basketball under-the-leg-tumbles a woman has ever done in one minute: 32.

For George, all of the awards are flattering and all, but what gets her out of bed every day is the chance to make someone else’s day better.

“Being a Globetrotter is just amazing,” she said. “We’re changing lives but it [has] also changed my life. We get letters from people all over the world about the memories they’ve made coming to our games. I’m truly speechless to be able to affect so many people globally. Every night I know someone is going to see me for the first time. I give it all I got because I know it’s going to impact somebody’s life.”

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