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  • Courtesy Lili “Champ” Thompson, a former Notre Dame player, is a rookie with the Harlem Globetrotters. 

  • Courtesy Hot Shot Swanson hangs from the rim while playing for the Harlem Globetrotters. 

Friday, January 25, 2019 1:00 am

Globetrotters still amazing their fans

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

if you go

When: 1 p.m. Feb. 3

Where: Memorial Coliseum

Tickets: Coliseum box office;;

Not to say I'm old – I'm 43 – but when I was a kid, the Harlem Globetrotters were doing things with basketballs no one else could.

I'm not just talking about showing up in my favorite TV shows, such as “Scooby Doo,” but the razzmatazz dribbling, no-look passing, stupendous dunking and the trick shots – all left little Cohny befuddled.

But it's 2019 now. We have the internet. It's not difficult to find others, such as Dude Perfect, doing wacky shots. Social media allows NBA players' moments of trick-shot glory to be shared. Even the Mad Ants have had Globetrotter moments; think Ron Howard passing from the concourse to help Tony Mitchell win the G League Dunk Contest.

The Harlem Globetrotters may not have the market on wacky shots cornered anymore, but they don't mind the competition, and they believe their message and entertainment remain unparalleled.

“We enjoy (the trick-shot) competition. We're always innovating and trying new things,” says Lili “Champ” Thompson, a rookie with the Globetrotters, who will be at Memorial Coliseum for a game 1 p.m. Feb. 3. “We do World Trick Shot Day, where we invite people do their trick shots and send them in. We're still able to pull off that Globetrotter magic that I think is pretty special.”

Something about the Globetrotters must still speak to people, much more than YouTubers can, or we wouldn't have someone like Thompson eager to sign on.

She was a member of Notre Dame's 2018 national championship team, though she tore her ACL during the regular season. Before transferring to South Bend, she was a three-year starter at Stanford. She has a Master of Science in management from Notre Dame and a bachelor's in innovation and organizations from Stanford, along with a lengthy list of conference and national basketball honors that could have taken her to the professional ranks in the WNBA or overseas.

She had options. But she wanted to be a Globetrotter.

“It's more than just playing basketball,” she said. “It's entertaining and going out into the community, having a positive outlook. You have to be a people person to be able to do that.”

A big part of what the Globetrotters do is send a positive message to kids.

“We go to elementary schools and children's hospitals and talk about anti-bullying,” Thompson said. “We just do a lot of outreach.”

But being a Globetrotter still means you've got to have the moves – they recently set five Guinness World Records, including Bull Bullard making the longest shot while doing a back flip, at 58 feet, 1.25 inches – and that brings with it a little pressure.

“Every Globetrotter has a basketball pedigree that they come from and, so, a lot of the things that go into being a Globetrotter are basketball specific. That behind-the-scenes magic, you learn as you go,” said Thompson, who is a native of Honolulu and met current Globetrotter Scooter Christensen at a basketball clinic when she was 7.

Thompson's grandfather, legendary Michigan high school coach George C. Thompson, coached current Globetrotters coach Barry Hardy, too, so Champ Thompson knows all about the impact she can have as a Globetrotter.

That includes beating up on the Washington Generals night after night.

“They're a tough adversary,” Thompson said.

OK, things have changed, but I'm not sure they've changed that much.

Justin A. Cohn, senior writer for The Journal Gazette, has covered Fort Wayne sports since 1997. He can be reached by email at or phone at 260-461-8429. You can also follow him on Twitter@sportsicohn.