OAKLAND -- Growing up, Oakland native Tammy Brawner loved playing basketball against the guys.
Now, as a rookie with the famed Harlem Globetrotters, she gets to do it for a living in front of big crowds each night while traveling the world.
The Skyline High graduate showed off her fancy ballhandling skills to a home crowd when the Globetrotters visited Oracle Arena and HP Pavilion last weekend.
Brawner, the 10th woman in the 87-year history of the famous basketball troupe, is the only female on the floor for this leg of the tour. But that's part of the fun for the 26-year-old with an unconventional basketball journey that included detours in modeling and at a Division II college.
"(The guys) treat me just like I'm one of them, there's no mercy," said Brawner, who is better known now by her Globetrotter persona T-Time. "If I'm knocked down, I'm knocked down. They challenge me to be better every day, and off the court they are like my brothers."
Brawner is part of a recent push by the Globetrotters to appeal to a broader audience. Last year, Fatima "TNT" Maddox became the first female in nearly 20 years to suit up for the Globetrotters. She received such a good reception that the Globetrotters added Brawner and later Ariel "Mighty" Mitchell to the roster this season, giving each of the three touring squads a female member.
Louis "Sweet Lou" Dunbar, now the director of player personnel after a long playing career with the Globetrotters, said Brawner's engaging personality and point guard skills fit in perfectly with the showy team.
When Dunbar first saw her on film, he was reminded of one of his former teammates -- Lynette Woodard, who helped cast the Globetrotters in the spotlight in 1985 when she became the first woman to play for the troupe.
"She had that smile," Dunbar said of Brawner. "She's a player, she's charismatic, she's fun. We're a team full of specialists, and she can handle the rock well and dish it so well."
Brawner's game had those traits even in her earliest playing days in Oakland's playgrounds and rec leagues. One of her high school coaches, Shawn Hipol, saw the flair to her game when she was in middle school.
"She wasn't the quickest kid, but she could handle the ball with both hands on a string," Hipol said. "She could do things with the ball that you see boys do."
Brawner graduated from Skyline in 2004, earning team MVP and all-league honors her senior year. She was supposed to continue her basketball career at Cal State Northridge but ended up getting into acting and modeling instead.
After earning her bachelor's degree, Brawner wanted to get back into the sport. So she enrolled in an MBA program at Dominican University in San Rafael and brought her deadly crossover to the Division II women's basketball team. Brawner was an all-conference selection for the Hawks, averaging 11.3 points and leading the team in steals as a senior.
When she finished up her college career, Brawner thought she might get into coaching. She enjoyed the three years she spent assisting Hipol at Skyline.
But Brawner also wasn't ready for her basketball career to be over.
"I just had a feeling in my gut that it was my calling," said Brawner.
She then hired an agent who sent her college highlight film to professional women's teams abroad.
The Globetrotters ended up getting ahold of the tape, too. They invited her to a workout, and now Brawner finds herself in a role she never imagined.
A player who "always wanted the 'oohs' and 'ahhs' from the crowd," Brawner loves showing off her skills to mesmerized fans. But being a Globetrotter is about more than entertainment.
"The thing I like most about it is it's not just about basketball at the end of the day," Brawner said. "We do little things, like breast cancer awareness and an anti-bullying campaign. I like being able to touch more than one facet of life and touching children and families."
Brawner and the Globetrotters are constantly on the road from late December through early May, averaging about seven shows a week.
But while in town for the Bay Area events, Brawner made time to visit one of her former schools, Laurel Elementary, with teammate "Slick" Willie Shaw. The duo combined an anti-bullying presentation with their nifty basketball moves.
It's this aspect of being a Globetrotter that Brawner finds most rewarding.
"If people only remember me for basketball then I haven't done my job," she said. "Basketball is great fun, but it's more than that. It's my tool to reach others."