Tammy Brawner: Poised On & Off the Court
Tammy Brawner is not your average lady in any sense of the word. Reigning from the hard streets of Oakland, California, Tammy grew up in a world where she was defined by the limitations of the people around her and the environment she grew up in. Often told that she would amount to little more than the influences of the streets around her, growing up Tammy vowed to break down barriers and pave her own way. Though she was a stellar basketball player in high school, the game took a backseat for this beauty when she made the decision to pursue a career in modeling not too far from home in Los Angeles, California. In her journey to finding her own path in life, Tammy defied all odds when she graduated from Dominican University of California, and her dreams of being a professional basketball player came full circle when she became a guard for the world famous Harlem Globetrotters…being one of only 10 women to grace the history of the team. I reflect with Tammy on the lessons learned growing up in Oakland, defying all odds against her and achieving greatness as a Globetrotter, being engaged to marry one of her favorite childhood TV stars, and how she finds inspiration in it all.
Chrystal: Tell me about your progression from growing up in Oakland to becoming playing on the renowned Harlem Globetrotter tem.
Tammy: Not having the same passion, I ditched practice one day and I decided to walk away from the game of basketball to pursue acting and modeling. At the time, I was living in Southern California where everyone was in my ear telling me ‘you should do this; you’ll have a better career in that then in basketball; you’re only 5’5’ you’re not that big’. As a result I decided to walk away from the game. A couple of years passed and I realized that my heart was still in basketball and that I wanted to play the game again. Of course, people told me I should quit and that I’d never play again on such a high level. For a moment, I thought they might be right. Until I realized that I’m not built like that…I’m not built to give up. I’m built to win no matter what anyone said!
With that, I decided to pursue playing basketball again and ended up playing for Dominican University of California where I did well and picked up a sports agent. When I got done playing, I got a bunch of offers to play oversees, and for some reason my gut feeling was to not jump on those. Then one day my agent called me up to let me know that the Globetrotters were interested in having me come in to do a workout and I thought, ‘wow, that’s awesome…I never knew they had a women’s team’. My agent was like, ‘no..you’re going to be playing with the guys’. I thought, ‘wow, that’s incredible’. So I went to a workout/tryout and did really well. It was a typical workout/tryout where we did typical ball handling, drills, and scrimmages…only this time I was playing with all men in men’s basketball. They liked me, and the next week they offered me a contract, so that’s how I got here.
Chrystal: In your 3 years as a Globetrotter, what would you say has been your most memorable experience and/or encounter?
Tammy: My most memorable would probably be around Thanksgiving time a couple of years ago when we went to the Middle East to play for the troops. We went everywhere, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait; and had the opportunity to play on an aircraft carrier on the Persian Gulf. It was amazing! They had a flight assist signal at the top of the ship and there was a basketball court right in the middle. All the military personnel were given some time-off to watch our game, and we ended up playing in the middle of the ocean on a military craft. It was absolutely amazing to bring joy to the people fighting for our country. That’s the cool thing about the Globetrotters and why I love being a part of [their organization] so much. We play hard on the court, but there’s also so much that we do off the court. We’ve been to hospitals to visit the sick, we’ve been to schools to talk about bullying…we’re really about making this world a better place.
Chrystal: You recently played in the celebrity basketball game for the BET Experience. Who were some of your celebrity teammates and opponents?
Tammy: One my team, I had [Floyd] Mayweather, Justin Beiber, The Game, Brandon T. Jackson. We were loaded; we we’re good! The other team had Chris Brown, Tank, and a few other people on their team.
Chrystal: Who’s celebrity basketball’s skills surprised you the most?
Tammy: Honestly Maywether. You know it’s crazy, because my friends ask me the question a lot, ‘how was it playing with Mayweather’ and I tell them I understand why he’s undefeated. You know, Mayweather isn’t a basketball player, but he has what I like to call willpower…the power to win. It’s a celebrity game, so most of us are just out to have fun and put on a show for the fans, but his mentality was ‘no…we’re gonna win this game!’ It’s funny because he’s not a [basketball] player but he still made a few baskets and I was surprised [laughs]. I was like, ‘whoa…willpower!’ It’s just his power to win and be great and it’s amazing to be in that type of company.
Chrystal: We spoke a bit about your transition from basketball to modeling when you first started. What drew your attention to modeling after basketball and what has kept you there?
Tammy: What’s funny about modeling is that as a young girl, I loved to take pictures and all, so that initially drew me into it. But when I actually got into modeling in Hollywood I realized that I didn’t particularly like the entertainment industry. It took me awhile to mature; I love it now. But when you’re 18 and coming from Oakland, the mentality is completely different. Whereas in Hollywood everything seems fake and everyone’s putting on a show, when you’re from Oakland everyone and everything is real and I wasn’t used to the difference. I didn’t understand it and the industry really bothered me. As I got older, I became more mature and grew to love it now that I can understand it. The best thing about it to me is that I ‘m able show little girls how to be great and passionate in more than one thing; you can be a basketball player and still model and still be feminine. No one ever told me that when I was 18; it was always either or. The most important thing about it all for me is just being able to tell girls that they can do whatever they want to do.
Chrystal: Piggybacking on your passion to motivate others, tell me a little bit about your book entitled Breaking Out.
Tammy: My book has the intention to be an inspiration to young girls in particular, but really to people all over the world. I grew up in Oakland, and was told everything I wouldn’t be. I mean, I was told I wouldn’t graduate from high school. I was told I would never ever go to college, let alone graduate from college. In basketball, I was told that I was too small and too pretty to play, and what’s so cold is that I’ve had people tell me that I’d be a better prostitute than a professional basketball player. So, I’ve had a whole bunch of people tell me a whole bunch of things. I wanted to tell my story and how I was able to not buy into what people told me I wouldn’t be. Long story short, [Breaking Out] tells them how I not only ended up with a Bachelor’s degree but also with a Master’s degree. Not only am I a professional basketball player…I’m a professional basketball player on an all men’s team!
Chrystal: So you would say that Breaking Out was designed to focus on all audiences. Anyone who just needs to be inspired?
Tammy: Definitely! I want to inspire people and let them know that you don’t have to be what everyone wants you to be. And most importantly, people have to understand that [they] can do what has never been done. So often people are afraid to think outside the box or challenge that status quo and they start to think, ‘this has never been done, so how am I going to do it’. Well, it doesn’t matter if it’s never been done! You can be the first to do anything, and that’s what I want people to realize.
Chrystal: Given all you’ve been through, what’s been your biggest motivation thus far?
Tammy: Everyone telling me what I couldn’t do and what I wouldn’t be. Like I say in my book, everyone who told me what I couldn’t become and who I couldn’t be..Thank You. I speak about it in [Breaking Out], but though I graduated college, I came from an Oakland public school district where my reading, writing, and comprehension skills were at the elementary level. With that, I had to play catch-up in college. There were nights where I was tired and didn’t feel like studying or didn’t feel like waking up at 7 am to go to writing class, but when I would think about people telling me that I would get kicked out or that I would never graduate, it all just fueled my fire.
Chrystal: What is one thing about you that you think people would be surprised to know?
Tammy: People might be surprised that I actually hate running! I can play basketball for hours, but if you tell me to run a mile or 2 on the treadmill or even on the track, I’m like, ‘what? are you serious?’ [laughs]
Chrystal: Really? Ok, I’m definitely surprised [laughs]. How then do you build your stamina?
Tammy: The thing about basketball is that for us it’s not so much about running one mile or two miles; we’re better off running 100 yard sprints.
Chrystal: Your husband to be was a star of one of the first television shows that positively portrayed an African-American family to the masses. Did you watch the show growing up?
Tammy: I did watch Family Matters growing up. I was actually a fan of this show! Even to this day, I think it’s one of the better television shows we’ve ever had on T.V
Chrystal: Being that you both are public figures, do you feel that the media has at all affected the dynamic of your relationship?
Tammy: The two of us? Not at all. There really hasn’t been anything bad put out there about the two of us being together. I don’t read every article or every blog posted about us, but the ones I have had the chance to read have been very good.
Chrystal: I’ve seen the two of you tighter and you both look beautifully happy. Do you have any advice about how to build a strong relationship?
Tammy: Absolutely. I would say that you have to have a strong foundation going in. Especially since we’re celebrities, you always have to be aware of the things that you do. You just have to really know each other, because other people will always try to tell you who you’re dealing with. That’s so important. If you know who you’re dealing with and what that person stands for, you’re moving in the right direction.
Chrystal: What can we expect from Tammy Brawner in the future?
Tammy: That’s a great question! Starting in October, I’ll be starring in a movie called Leader of the Pack. Candace Parker is in it and I just found out in an article about the movie that Dwayne Wade, Sr. is also going to be featured. That and my book are two of the main things that I’m excited to be working on now.