“It’s almost like a fairy tale,” Brawner said.
Her dream season began the day after Thanksgiving in 2012 when she flew to New York City to join her new Harlem Globetrotters teammates on a 10-game tour of global military bases, including Afghanistan which marked the 121st country the Globetrotters had performed in their illustrious career. Brawner never imagined dribbling a basketball would land her on foreign soil. That launched a three year-long traveling worldwide traveling excursion with the Globetrotters.
Though she averaged 8.5 points in 43 career games for Dominican’s women’s basketball team as a Global Management graduate student in the Barowsky School of Business, Brawner exhibited a passion and flair for the game that her coach at Dominican at the time, Brianna Chambers, believed could serve her well in professional basketball.
“That’s why I liked her,” said Chambers, now an assistant women's basketball coach at the University of Portland. “I like a little flash from my point guards.”
The Cinderella-like story of how Brawner became a Globetrotter started when she became a Penguin. Chambers was searching for a point guard during the summer of 2009 and asked Skyline High School girls coach Shawn Hipol. He said he had someone in mind: His assistant coach, Brawner.
Brawner, who had graduated from Cal State Northridge with a degree in criminal justice, had a year and half of athletic eligibility remaining. She was considering going to law school, but changed her mind after she discovered the outstanding international business program at Dominican once Chambers recruited her out of an open gym tryout at Conlan Center.
“I saw her do two plays – two drives to the basket – and that’s all I needed to see,” Chambers said. “I literally walked out of the gym and said `Yup. I want her.’ You could tell she was a (good) player.”
Brawner knew she made a good first impression.
“I was immediately in the attack mode,” she said. “No time to waste.”
Wasting time was never an issue at Dominican for Brawner. Preseason conditioning practice started at 6 a.m. so, to beat rush hour traffic, Brawner would commute to Dominican from Oakland, sometimes leaving her home at 3 a.m. And Chambers helped accommodate her evening class schedule by holding team practice from 9-11 p.m. Thus, there were some days when Brawner left home before the crack of dawn and wouldn’t get back until midnight.
In between, Brawner would crash on the couch of Penguins’ teammate Shelly Clermenco in her on-campus apartment in Edgehill Village. Brawner hung out there sleeping, studying for international finance and marketing classes and watching TV before her evening classes and basketball games or practices.
“Tough life, huh?” Brawner said, smiling. “But it worked out perfect.”
Brawner earned her master’s degree in Global Management and set herself up for a possible career in professional basketball. She averaged a team-best 16 points a game in her final 10 games for the Penguins, including a career-high 23 points at Grand Canyon University on Feb. 12, 2011. Brawner had extra incentive to do well in that game because, as she was stretching on the floor prior to the contest, she said a Grand Canyon player was mimicking her, mocking her crossover dribble.
“You want to make fun of me but what can you do about it?” Brawer thought. She responded by making 7-of-17 field goal attempts and 9-of-11 free throws with seven assists in the game.
It was the kind of showing that has earned Brawner the nickname “T-Time” with the Harlem Globetrotters. However, on the Dominican women’s basketball team, her nickname was “Grandma.” She was 23 years old when she joined the Penguins.
“A lot of the girls on the team were 18 and 19, so that’s old for them,” Brawner said. “But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. All my coaches and teammates were wonderful.”
Chambers strongly encouraged Brawner to continue playing basketball after graduating from Dominican. The Penguins head coach inspired Brawner to keep her hoop dreams alive.
“She said, `You need to play (professional) basketball somewhere,’ ” Brawner said. “I took it to heart. It meant a lot coming from her.”
While Brawner was contemplating choosing between a career in basketball as a collegiate coach or a career in business as a manager, she coached her younger sister, Tiffany Rivers, at Skyline High. Rivers was named Most Valuable Player in the Oakland Athletic League that season, but her big sister trumped her that summer. Brawner’s agent at XTreme Heat Sports Management, based in Houston, was shopping her highlight video around to women’s professional basketball teams overseas. A tape also was sent to the Globetrotters.
They invited Brawner to a two-hour tryout/scrimmage in New Jersey and were so impressed that they called her a few days later and sent her to Arizona to sign a contract. Brawner became the 10th female in the then 87-year history of the famous traveling troupe to play for the Harlem Globetrotters, only the third female in the previous 20 years.
“I think I was more excited about it than she was,” Chambers said. “It makes me tear up just thinking about it. I am so proud of her."
Brawner’s excitement piqued when she and the four other Globetrotter rookies this season attended their first workout with their new team in Long Island New York. She was at first intimidated by how high the veteran `Trotters could jump.
“I have to play against them? You’re almost in awe,” Brawner said. “They immediately turned into brothers. I’ve never been in such a warm atmosphere and working environment … But they don’t take it easy on me because I’m a girl.”
Brawner is also amazed at how women and little girls perceive her as a role model. Eventually, she met Globetrotters’ legend and dribbling whiz Curly Neal and travel to China – one of her goals as a MBA grad at Dominican -- but the moment she most anticipated was the day she officially began playing every day with the Globetrotters. Brawner made her Globetrotters' North American Tour debut on Dec. 26, 2012 in Green Bay, Wis. Three weeks later she and the Globetrotters came home to Oakland and played in the Oakland Arena where Brawner first saw the Globetrotters play when she was nine years old.
“I just remember thinking I had never seen anything like it in my life. I remember the players doing things with a basketball I never imagined were possible,” Brawner said. “But never in a million years did I ever think that one day I would be playing with them.”
Fairy tales do come true.