Fatima Maddox is newest female Globetrotter

Fatima Maddox loves to draw and paint in her free time.

"I'm a fairly artsy type of person," Maddox, 28, said.

But with the grueling demands on her schedule as a Harlem Globetrotters rookie, the ninth female player in team history doesn't have much time for artistic endeavors off the basketball court.

It's on the court where Maddox shows off her creativity, impressing fans and team veterans with her dazzling ballhandling skills.

"I like her ballhandling and the confidence of being a lady who has a lot of get-up-and-go about her," said Globetrotter legend Fred "Curly" Neal, one of the great ball handlers in team history. "We're proud to have her on the team and set an example for the young women. They're thinking, 'I can do that too,' and it gives them confidence and determination to be the best -- and that's what she is."

Maddox, nicknamed TNT by the team because of her explosiveness, came to the game later than most. A standout track and field star, the 5-foot-6 playmaker stumbled on a pickup basketball game in her hometown of Colorado Springs, Colo., when she was 13 years old. She persuaded the guys to let her play and hasn't looked back.

Maddox brought that same fearless attitude to a Globetrotters tryout in Philadelphia last year after returning from two years of playing professional basketball in Sweden. At the tryout, she competed against 25 to 30 men as well as a few women. Maddox hoped to rekindle the legacy built by Hall of Famer Lynette Woodard, who became the first female Globetrotter in 1985.

Maddox impressed with her signature crossover move, later dubbed The Cyclone. And becoming the first woman since 1993 to don the trademark red, white and blue uniform of the legendary Globetrotters? It represents a dream come true.

"I'm still kind of pinching myself to this day," Maddox said. "I'm having a great time."

Unlike the male teenagers in Colorado, the Globetrotters embraced their female rookie from day one.

"I like to tell people that I walked in with two brothers and now I have about 30," said Maddox, the daughter of a single mother of five kids. "They've really made me feel like I'm a part of the family."

Maddox, with her vivacious personality and infectious smile, has had no problem fitting in. In her first six months on tour, she's already emerged as a fan favorite among girls and boys, many of whom have never seen a woman play on the same court with men.

"From the very first game I ever played with the Globetrotters, the women and the young ladies have been so receptive," Maddox said. "It just makes me proud to be able to put that uniform on and go out there every night and represent them. And even some of the little boys -- I've seen a couple little boys with my jersey on and after the game they'll come up and ask, 'How did you do that trick or this trick?' It's been amazing."

Herbert "Flight Time" Lang, a 13-year veteran, has been impressed with Maddox, though they are on different touring squads.

"To be a woman on the Globetrotters, you definitely have to be a good basketball player and you have to be able to handle the basketball and you have to be willing to work hard," Lang said. "To be the only girl you have to handle that responsibility of being that role model and example for other young girls who aspire to do things that people probably tell them that they can't do. She's embraced it very well, she's doing a great job, she's a fan favorite and we're happy to have her. She has a great personality; she's got pretty thick skin, she can take a joke."

While the Globetrotters have a reputation for jokes and silliness on the court, Maddox takes her responsibilities as a role model and community leader seriously. Maddox credits her mother and her coach at Temple, three-time Olympic gold medalist Dawn Staley, for her commitment to giving back.

"My mother has had a tremendous influence on the person I have become," Maddox said. "She has had a very hard life, and the fact that she never gave up on herself or any of her children, even though she raised us alone, has been a constant source of motivation for me."

Staley, now coaching at South Carolina, played in the WNBA, coached at Temple, cared for her family and ran a charitable foundation in Philadelphia at the same time.

Maddox said Staley "inspired me to try and be a better person and try and use basketball as a way to change my surroundings and maybe help some people."

The Globetrotters provide an ideal platform for Maddox to fulfill that commitment.

"We're the Globetrotters, the ambassadors of good will. And for me that's important," Maddox said. "Growing up, I was the recipient of some charity and some good deeds and I know those things meant the world to me, big or small, so for the Globetrotters to allow me to bring that back around full circle and give back, it's been incredible."