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Harlem Globetrotter TNT Lister sits down with Gulf News shortly before the team's game at Expo 2020 Dubai Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

In her No. 18 jersey, she swoops into the Expo 2020 Dubai Sports Lounge with a basketball already twirling on her fingertips. It skids to a stop, and with a flick of the wrist the ball travels up her arm and down the other in the blink of an eye.

Having been in the game for 10 years, Fatima ‘TNT’ Lister carries the ball like an extension of herself, her sure gait an indication of the same. This is the Harlem Globetrotters’ point guard – the American exhibition basketball team that’s been taking family entertainment and sports to new heights since 1927.

Nobody would have guessed that the Globetrotters were born in a Chicago-based ballroom 95 years ago. Originally founded as the Savoy Big Five, the team played games to attract dancers to the floor in exchange for a court to call their own.

After a brief split, they came into their current identity under coach Abe Saperstein, who bulldozed his players through the Great Depression and bagged national and international tournaments. And when the National Basketball Association (NBA) formed in 1946, comedic elements and theatrical tricks helped the Globetrotters set themselves apart.

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The Harlem Globetrotters with coach Abe Saperstein (right) in 1950 Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A unique balance of sport and entertainment

Gulf News spoke to the team’s first female player drafted after 20 years in 2011. TNT Lister and her fellow teammates brought the Spread Game Tour to Dubai for two special games on October 29 and 30, making it their historic World Expo debut. Their visit also tied in with the Dubai Fitness Challenge launch at the world fair, something the Globetrotters talk to school children about back in the US.

“When Harlem Globetrotters first began, it was more of a traditional basketball team. Over time it started to develop more of an entertainment aspect – it’s a very unique balance. We make sure everyone has a good time, but it’s still competitive,” said Lister.

“Before every show we practice for at least two and a half hours. As individual players it is really up to us to get good at tricks or whatever our specialty is in.”

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The Globetrotters engaged with the Expo audience, teaching them tricks and spins Image Credit: Supplied

Last weekend the Expo audience got to experience that exhilarating mashup live. The players would suddenly break out of formation in the middle of a game to spin the ball, slam dunk with flair and dribble spectacularly without breaking a sweat. While children and adults alike were given the chance to try their hands at tricks and spins on court, lucky few even managed to get autographs post-game.

‘The only female player here’

Lister’s own personal journey is somewhat of an awe-inspiring tale for young girls who dream big. When basketball was just a means to get into college, her dedication put her in the spotlight and earned her an invite to the Harlem Globetrotters try-outs. It is a life lesson Lister encapsulates in an advice she often repeats throughout the conversation: “Never give up on yourself.”

Globetrotter TNT Lister’s top two memorable shows
1. Performing in front of her daughter, Kali Rose, for the first time at the Staples Center in Los Angeles
2. Shooting hoops with former US President Barack Obama at the White House
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TNT Lister was the only female player on the team in Dubai Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

With an impressive record of over 26,000 exhibition games in 124 countries, the Harlem Globetrotters still remains a male-dominated sports team. And Lister is fully aware of the uphill battle that female athletes face, performing under constant pressure to prove themselves worthy.

“I’m the only female player here today with the team, and it is really important for me to show other women and young girls that we can be anything we want to be,” Lister added.