By Joanne Norell
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For all of the traveling Lili Thompson has done throughout her life — from frequent moves growing up in a military family, to her prep basketball days, to her collegiate career at Stanford and Notre Dame — nothing quite prepared her for the grind of professional basketball.
Then again, life as a Harlem Globetrotter isn’t exactly a typical professional basketball experience.
Thompson, who joined the famed franchise following her Notre Dame graduation last summer, is still adjusting to life on the road. Now taking part in the Globetrotters’ Fan Powered World Tour, she has been criss-crossing the nation to perform, make appearances in the community and generally bring joy to the fans the team interacts with.
In November, that meant the chance to teach Steph Curry some Globie tricks while the team stopped in at a Golden State Warriors practice while preparing for shows in the Bay Area. This week, that’s meant a stopover at the place she used to call home as Thompson — who spent her graduate season with the Irish during their 2018 national championship run — and the Globetrotters get set for their annual appearance at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday.
“It’s crazy,” said Thompson. “We’re on the domestic leg of our 2019 world tour right now, hitting so many cities across the country, putting on shows. In addition to the games, we visit elementary schools, talk about anti-bullying, go to children’s hospitals, Ronald McDonald houses. We’re just on the road having a ton of fun.
“This is probably one of the most fun trips I’ve been able to be on with the Globetrotters because I get to come back and see my friends and teammates and coaches and see that they’re continuing on with what we started last year by winning the national championship, being ranked No. 1 again and doing so well. It’s really fun to see.”
In June, Thompson became one of five players “drafted” by the Globetrotters, joining Lou Dunbar II (son of Globetrotters legend and current coach and director of player personnel Sweet Lou Dunbar), Joseph Kilgore (former guard at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), Paul Pogba (the professional soccer player) and Thor Bjornsson (the reigning World’s Strongest Man) in the class. It was an opportunity that never quite crossed her mind until it arose.
“While playing here, I went to the game since they come to South Bend every year. I’d already had some family connections (referring to Globetrotters coach Barry Hardy, who had once played for her grandfather George Thompson in Inkster, Michigan) and seen the Globetrotters (perform while) growing up like a lot of people,” said Thompson, now nicknamed “Champ” as a nod to her role in helping the Irish to the national title. “After drafting me, we got to talking and we figured it would be a good opportunity on both sides for me to come on board.”
The occasion not only gave Thompson a chance to continue her basketball career — which had been interrupted by an ACL tear 14 games into her year with the Irish — but to be something of a trailblazer while doing so. When signing on with the team, she also joined an exclusive group of female Globetrotters, of which there have been less than 20 in the program’s 92-year history. She is one of seven women on the current roster, but nods to the first woman Globetrotter, Lynette Woodard, who joined the squad in 1985 and broke the gender barrier as the first woman to play on a professional men’s basketball team.
“To be a small part of that is awesome,” Thompson said. “I think the biggest impact comes just when I walk into an arena and there are young girls and boys there who are excited and looking up to us as role models, and it’s really special that everyone has someone to look up to.”
But the Globetrotters don’t provide the only arena in which Thompson is combining her passions with service. While still at Notre Dame, she developed an online consulting business, The Basketball IQ Academy, which she launched upon graduation in May 2018. There, she offers an IQ training course for elite high school athletes, designed to help them learn college-level principles.
“That actually started while I was here at Notre Dame in business school,” said Thompson, who earned a master’s in management from the Mendoza College of Business. “It just came from wanting to give back. I’m always getting questions and requests for advice and help from young athletes and I wanted to find a way to combine my passion to help with my passion for business. I think that’s something that’s in line with the Globetrotter identity of being of service and giving back to the communities from which we come.”
The online nature of the business is such that it allows Thompson to work on it from anywhere, making the balancing act with her Globetrotters career a little easier.
“Right now it’s a fully functioning website and most of the training I can do from anywhere in the country or in the world, which is pretty cool. In terms of balance, being on tour with the Globetrotters is my No. 1 priority, but we do have downtime and that’s when everyone has their own individual interests and things that they pursue.”
Though her time at Notre Dame was brief in the context of a collegiate career, it’s clear the experience has had a lasting impact on Thompson.
“Something Coach (Muffet) McGraw always talks about is just being strong and confident,” she said. “Being one of the few women on the team, that’s something you do have to have. You have to have that kind of confidence and belief in yourself and that’s something I’ve carried through from my college days.”
Thompson and the Globetrotters will bring their Fan Powered World Tour back to Notre Dame when they perform at 7 p.m. ET on Jan. 26 at Purcell Pavilion. For tickets, visit UND.com/buytickets or call 833-ND-IRISH.
Globetrotters’ Tour Brings Thompson Home
By Joanne Norell