Lili “Champ” Thompson was sort of a globetrotter before she became a Harlem Globetrotter.
Champ’s mother and father are retired from the military. If you grow up in a military family, that often means you grew up everywhere and that was her experience.
Born about 270 miles from Tulsa in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Champ said she has lived in Missouri, New Jersey, Hawaii, Texas, California and Indiana. She lived in the latter two states while playing with two (Stanford, Notre Dame) of the nation’s premier women’s college basketball programs.
Where is home?
“Right now, home is wherever I am at,” Champ said, referring to being on tour with the Globetrotters.
Champ was in Tulsa last week to do advance publicity for the Globetrotters’ Thursday, Feb. 7, appearance at the BOK Center. Coincidentally, her parents relocated to Tulsa a few weeks ago, so now she has two reasons — Mom, Dad — to come back and visit. Mom accompanied the Globetrotters rookie to the Tandy Family YMCA to watch her do interviews and, during an introductory chat, said it seems like it was her daughter’s destiny to become a Globetrotter.
“I do think a lot of things can be meant to be,” Champ said. “It’s just how some things work out.”
Let’s connect some dots.
Champ’s Globetrotter roots go all the way back to a grandfather, George C. Thompson III, a hall of fame high school basketball coach in Michigan. One of his players, Barry “High Rise” Hardy, became a Globetrotter. Now, Hardy is a Globetrotters coach.
When Champ was a 7-year-old in Hawaii, the Globetrotters visited a military base there and staged a camp for kids. Champ was one of the campers, and the Globetrotters’ visit made an impression on her. Her Globetrotter coach at the camp was a rookie named Scooter Christensen who, oh by the way, is still a Globetrotter.
“I tell him he looks the exact same, and it’s true,” Champ said.
Champ, no longer 7 years old, doesn’t look the same. She grew up to become one of Scooter’s teammates.
“Things have really come full circle for me,” she said.
Did Champ always have a goal of becoming a Globetrotter? She answered by saying she was always good at staying in the moment and enjoying what she was doing at the time. When playing first at Stanford and then at Notre Dame as a graduate transfer, her focus was on winning a national championship. She was a member of a national championship team last season.
“I really didn’t know what step was going to come next,” she said. “When the Globetrotters called and drafted me, it was like a puzzle piece coming together.”
Yes, the Globetrotters have an annual draft, and Champ was in the 2018 draft class, along with Oklahoma City University’s Lou Dunbar II, the son of a Globetrotter. She decided being a Globetrotter would be a great fit. She called it a dream job. She gets to see the world and put smiles on faces, not only at games, but also at elementary schools and children’s hospitals.
Fulfilling? Of course. She said people have come up to her and shared childhood tales about watching the animated Globetrotters team up with Scooby-Doo or tagging along with grandparents to see the “real” Globetrotters play games.
“It’s a family tradition, and now that they are older, they are taking their own grandkids to the game, and they are excited that there are ladies on the team and we are doing good work in the world,” Champ said.
The best thing about being a Globetrotter is being a part of a storied legacy, according to Champ. She said the Harlem Globetrotters came into being because blacks weren’t allowed to play in the NBA. The Globetrotters have helped break color barriers and gender barriers (Lynette Woodard became the first female Globetrotter in 1985).
“Those two things are crucial to Globetrotters history,” she said. “Being a part of that legacy and moving that forward and making sure that this team continues to be what it is now, that’s really special.”
Champ did not choose her nickname. It was given to her because teammates found out she was on a national championship team. A torn ACL prevented her from finishing her final collegiate season, but she’s oh-so-close to being fully healthy and ready for her first Globetrotters game. She expects it will be a nerve-wracking and joyful experience.
Many Globetrotters are known for a specific skill. Champ may be a long-range bomber. She said she loved to shoot 3-pointers in college.
“The more points you can get at once the better, right?” she said. “The Globetrotters have a 4-point line that is actually further back than the NBA 3-point line, so pulling up for those 4-pointers is going to be awesome.”
No stranger to globetrotting because of her childhood background and student-athlete experiences, Champ is ready for another kind of globetrotting.
“It’s a new type of travel,” she said. “But I know how to pack a suitcase.”
Jimmie Tramel 918-581-8389
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