At age 8 or 9, hoops-loving Tammy Brawner attended a Harlem Globetrotters game in her hometown of Oakland and was convinced the slick passes and trick shots by the all-male team were not real.
She never dreamed that one day she would get to play for the barnstorming basketballers and create that same kind of “magic” for girls and others in the stands.
But when the ball is tipped Saturday afternoon at Philips Arena and later that evening at Gwinnett Arena, rookie point guard Brawner, 26, will be sporting No. 6. She is only the 10th woman to play for the Globetrotters since the team’s 1926 founding.
At Dominican University of California, Brawner led the Lady Penguins basketball team in steals and was second in scoring, assists and field goal percentage in her final season while earning a master’s in global management. Teammates nicknamed her “Grandma” due to her relatively advanced age of 23 when she joined the team.
For the Globetrotters, the slick ball-handler goes by “T-Time.” And in conversation, it’s clear that Tammy Brawner is seizing her moment.
“I’m truly honored to be in history books of the Globetrotters,” she said over the phone from the road recently. “It’s even more of an honor to be an inspiration to the young women who come to the game. I get fan mail from young girls saying, ‘I believe I can do anything now.’ Those things at the end of the day really make my job fulfilling.”
Lynette Woodward, the four-time All-American at the University of Kansas and Olympic gold medalist, blazed the trail as the Globetrotters’ first female in 1985. After her, the team went nearly two decades without a woman player until Fatima “TNT” Maddox wowed as the most impressive athlete, male or female, at a summer 2011 tryout.
Adding TNT to the roster last season turned out to be a dynamite idea, especially given the warm reception from girls and young women in the crowds. So the Globetrotters signed T-Time and Ariel “Mighty” Mitchell, giving each of its three constantly touring squads a female star.
Former Globetrotters standout “Sweet Lou” Dunbar, now director of player personnel, gives Brawner high marks.
“T-Time is a ball-handler, she dishes that ball well, she’s a premiere point guard,” Dunbar said, adding, “She has a great smile and that never hurt anybody.”
Indeed, the team that sports red, white and blue uniforms is an all-American amalgam, requiring its players to be athletes, entertainers and activists who make countless appearances on behalf of various causes such as bully prevention.
In other words, its players can’t be just players.
“I’ve been around this organization for 36 years and have seen a lot of great basketball players who couldn’t be Harlem Globetrotters because they couldn’t deal with people,” Dunbar said. “That’s what we do, deal with people.”
Brawner applauds her teammates for dealing with her as an equal.
“Off the court, they’re like my brothers,” she said. “On the court, they don’t see me any differently. They go right at me just like they would a guy. If I fall down, I better get back up.”
Brawner gets her own dressing room at tour stops, “usually the best-smelling one in the arena,” she noted with a chuckle. Once she’s in uniform, she joins her teammates in their locker room to banter and generally boost camaraderie.
She said she’s had to pick up her game to keep up with the guys, including the Globetrotters’ regular foils, the Global Select (formerly the Washington Generals).
“They’re high-flyers,” she said of her teammates. “It’s obviously more athletic than playing against women. They’re quicker, taller, faster.”
Speaking of taller, Brawner has a teammate who is 7-foot-8. Former Mountain State University center Paul “Tiny” Sturgess can dunk without his size-20s leaving the floor. “You can imagine playing against him in practice,” she said. “You think you’re by him and it’s like, ‘You’re still right here? Go away!’”
The only thing Brawner, who modeled and acted during college, misses? A female teammate to accompany her when she gets her nails and eyebrows done.
Though the three female Globetrotters haven’t been together since training camp last September, Brawner keeps up with Maddox and Mitchell via texts and phone calls.
“We’re really close,” she said, “because we realize we all represent one thing and that’s the progression of women athletics.”
Playing six to eight games a week while practicing plenty in between, she no longer thinks what the Globetrotters do is magic, by the way.
“It’s hard work, that’s what it is,” T-Time Brawner said. “It’s real.”
1 p.m. (at Philips Area) and 7:30 p.m. (at Gwinnett Arena) March 16. Tickets, starting at $21, at www.harlemglobetrotters.com, www.ticketmaster.com, arena box offices or 1-800-745-3000.