Oakland native Tammy Brawner was merely 11 years old when a schoolyard punk flung a basketball at her in the form of a taunting challenge.
“I’m like, ‘Hey! What was that about?’” Brawner remembered. “He was pretty much saying, ‘Hey, I wanna beat up on somebody. I wanna win. So come on.’”
Brawner obliged. And held her own.
“I’d love to play him again,” she said.
Come this weekend, Brawner will play — but not on the schoolyard, and definitely not against the boy who essentially sparked her passion for the hardwood.
One of the newest members of the famed exhibition basketball squad — the Harlem Globetrotters — the 5-foot-6 rookie will return home Saturday for a doubleheader at Oracle Arena, the locale where she watched the Globetrotters many years ago.
“Now I get a chance to put a smile on someone’s face — like they put on my face,” Brawner, 26, said. “But I never imagined that I would be playing for them. One, I’m a girl. There have been women prior to me, but it just doesn’t happen often. The odds and the numbers are so slim, that you just say, ‘It can’t be me.’”
While the team has existed for 87 years, Brawner this season became only the 10th woman to ever play for the Globetrotters, and is one of only three in the past 20 years to suit up for Harlem.
“In general, it’s an honor,” she said. “But just as a woman, it means so much.”
But Brawner’s pro-playing prospects after graduating from Dominican University in San Rafael with an MBA were much like the trajectory of a basketball — up in the air.
After completing her final year of athletic eligibility at Dominican, where she was a senior standout, Brawner was wary of playing overseas, and seemed ready to pursue a career in the corporate workforce.
Then the phone rang.
It was Harlem, and they wanted Brawner — who has since been dubbed “T-Time” — to work out.
“It was my craft, it was my pride ... my ability to handle the ball,” she said.
Since being signed, the Skyline High School grad has visited Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Afghanistan as part of the Globetrotters’ recent military tour. But her next stop at Oracle, the arena where she once played Warriors halftime shows.
“It almost seems to me like it was meant to be,” she said. “This is my destiny. My path, it was just a little bit unconventional.”