Sometime in the next few months, Lili Thompson will make her professional basketball debut with the Harlem Globetrotters.
The former Stanford and Notre Dame standout guard was one of five players drafted by the infamous organization last June, but she is in the final stages of rehabilitation from an ACL tear, and hasn’t yet been cleared to play.
Yet, Thompson has been preparing. The Globetrotters gave her a nickname – “Champ” – have put her in the practice rotation and given her a playing assignment. She said she is having a lot of fun.
“It’s a close-knit team,” Thompson said. “It’s pro basketball, with some of the best athletes in the world. We are focused on making it a great family experience for everyone who comes to see us.”
The Irish were in the midst of a great season, with Thompson leading them with 4.6 assists per game, when she hurt her knee Dec. 31, 2017, during a game. She and three other injured teammates cheered from the bench while Notre Dame went on to win the National Championship three months later.
The Globetrotters drafted her as just the 17th woman in their 92-year history to make the squad. And it was a kind of full-circle move for Thompson, whose first encounter with them was when she was seven years old.
“Both my parents were in the military – I was an Army brat – and every year the Globetrotters do a military base tour,” Thompson said. “After the game I got to meet one of the players, named Scooter, and it was a really cool experience. I remember vividly having so much fun out there.”
Thompson eventually learned she had a connection to the organization when she found out that one of their former coaches played for her grandfather, a Michigan High School Hall of Fame coach, almost 40 years ago. She was thrilled that they chose her to be on the team.
“All these years later, to have them draft me, it’s incredible,” she said.
For the Globetrotters, it was an easy call to make.
“You need three qualities to be a Harlem Globetrotter: you need to be a great basketball player, a great entertainer and a great person. Lili excels in all areas,” a spokesman for the organization said.
In preparation for the season, which begins tonight in Pennsylvania, Thompson and her teammates have been practicing and making appearances. One last month was with Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry.
Globetrotters players are split into four teams, and Thompson isn’t sure which one she’ll end up with. But her role is already defined: she’ll be a shooter.
“Some of the guys are working on high-flying dunks and acrobatics, and others are specializing in trick shots, ball-handling and running the play,” Thompson said. “The Globetrotters have a four-point line, and I’m excited to get out there on the four-point line. It’s longer than an NBA three.”
Thompson is philosophical about her injury, saying that getting hurt is part of the game. But as she continues her rehab, it is with a measured approach.
“I’m taking it one day at a time,” she said. “Focusing on a date to be cleared isn’t the best process for me.”