The Harlem Globetrotters will be looking a bit different in more ways than one when their world tour stops at Allstate Arena on Friday.
For a squad known historically for boasting a roster full of African-American men like Wilt Chamberlain and Connie Hawkins, it's unusual that the newly minted rookie class includes Fatima "TNT" Maddox and Jacob "Hops" Tucker.
Maddox, a South Side native, is the first female Globetrotter in 19 years and only the ninth in the team's history. Tucker, the recent Illinois College graduate whose electrifying dunks made him a YouTube sensation, joins fellow rookie Paul "Tiny" Sturgess as only the third and fourth Caucasian players in team history.
Seven-foot-eight center Sturgess, the tallest player in college basketball history, soccer player Lionel Messi and 12-year-old whiz kid Jordan McCabe were among the other six players the Globetrotters drafted this summer.
Tucker acknowledged that his youthful appearance and 5-foot-11 frame mean he looks more like a ball boy around his teammates. But he tries to downplay the physical differences.
"(My skin color) is something that gets brought up a lot, but it's something I don't pay attention to a lot," Tucker, 23, of Carlyle, Ill., told RedEye recently. "We're all here for the same purposes, and I feel like I'm just part of the team."
The snickers and sarcastic comments about Tucker tend to stop when people see the YouTube video of his jaw-dropping 50-inch vertical leap and arsenal of killer slam dunks that has racked up almost 5 million views since March. Tucker, a senior guard for tiny Illinois College in Jacksonville, lll., earlier this year, recorded the video on his iPhone during the last week of practice as a way to attract the attention of recruiters for the NCAA slam dunk contest.
"The clip wasn't meant to be what it ended up being," Tucker said. "The only reason we put it on YouTube was to attract attention from the company choosing the dunkers. It just kind of blew up from there."
The ploy worked, and Tucker was voted into the college slam dunk contest in Houston during the Final Four and won the title despite being the only Division III player involved.
Shortly after his big win, he heard through his school's sports information director that he'd been drafted by the Globetrotters.
"It was an easy decision for me," Tucker said. "I was really excited because of all the tradition and everything that goes with being a Globetrotter. I wanted to be a part of it."
Maddox, meanwhile, tried out for the Globetrotters on a whim. She'd just finished her second season in Sweden and was back in Philadelphia when an acquaintance suggested she try out.
"It's not something I really gave a lot of thought to, but they said there were going to be a few other females at the tryout, so I gave it a shot," said Maddox, 28, a Temple University grad.
The scouts were impressed, and Maddox was soon offered a spot on the Globetrotters roster.
"I'm very honored that after 19 years of not having a woman on the team, they felt like I fit the bill," she told RedEye. "I like how it also allows me to be a living example to other women and little girls that if you really want something, stay after it and you can do it."
Ten-year Globetrotters veteran Anthony "Buckets" Blakes said he believes that both Maddox and Tucker are great long-term fits for the team.
"I've seen a lot of players come and go in my time, and I think these two will be around for a while," Blakes said. "Hops obviously has dynamic jumping ability, and TNT with the way she dribbles and shoots the basketball, they both bring a ton to the table."
Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.
2 and 7 p.m. Friday, Allstate Arena
Tickets: $20 at harlemglobetrotters.com