How a Kansas Woman Traveled the Yellow Brick Road in Harlem Globetrotters History

It was Lynette Woodard’s childhood dream to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Her cousin, Hubert “Geese” Ausbie, played for the Globetrotters. She had the poster on her wall and was in the stands every time they visited her hometown of Wichita.

But as a Kansas native whose mother Dorothy once owned a dog named Toto, Woodard knew she would have to walk her own yellow road to history.

“In Kansas, it’s indoctrinated into you, you learn about the Wizard of Oz. So I took it and made it my story, but that was a dream I had and no one believed,” Woodard told CBC Sports.

In 1985, Woodard’s dream came true. She was one of 60 women who responded to a Globetrotters newspaper ad. She was one of about 20 who passed the second stage of the tests in California.

And she was the only one to make the team, the first female player in Harlem Globetrotters history.

“I saw the magic, the magic, and it was always in my heart. And I don’t know, I just started saying I’m going to do it,” Woodard said. “And that was my dream. I kept at it and then it came true. So dreams do come true.”

“These women can act”

When she joined the Globetrotters, Woodard, now 63, had already enjoyed a remarkable four-year college career with the Kansas Jayhawks, where she became the all-time leading scorer in women’s college basketball, a record she still holds today.

Woodard made the 1980 US Olympic basketball team, but did not compete due to the Western boycott of those Moscow Games. He returned as captain for the 1984 team, leading the Americans to gold in Los Angeles.

Woodard won Olympic gold as a member of Team USA in 1984. (Tony Duffy/Allsport/Getty Images)

It was there that the Globetrotters first came up with the idea of ​​turning together. However, not all team members were necessarily open at first—not that Woodard noticed.

“I thought all the kids were okay with it. I didn’t find out until I got there that maybe some of them didn’t think it was a good idea. Even my cousin the Geese, he said, ‘I don’t you know the street is a place for a woman”. I didn’t know what that meant,” he said.

“I was innocent in that situation. And so it kind of went over my head. I’m glad I didn’t listen. But at the audition, I could hear the guys saying, ‘Wow, these women can act.’

Woodard stayed with the team for two years, by the end of which she had earned the full respect of her colleagues.

“That last game, they rallied around me. It brought tears to my eyes because I knew they were watching and I didn’t know they cared so much. And so anyway, it was beautiful.”

WNBA pioneer

Woodard’s basketball career didn’t end there. She went on to play professionally in Japan, Italy and elsewhere before returning home for the inaugural WNBA season in 1997.

He played two years for the Detroit Shock and Cleveland Rockers before retiring.

“All those nights when I was in Italy or Japan, I was dreaming, ‘Hey, why can’t we have this in the States?’ It’s working here, it’s got to work there’. And then one day it happened,” Woodard said. “So you’ve just got to keep doing whatever you can do in the moment. And I did that by keeping my game at a level where if it happened I could go and participate.”

A woman in a Globetrotters jumpsuit walks onto the basketball court and waves to the crowd.
Woodard is seen during a Globetrotters game in 1986. (Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty Images)

In 2023, Canadian female basketball players are stuck in a similar situation to Woodard’s in the 1990s. Those talented enough can play in the WNBA, but most are forced overseas if they want to pursue professional basketball.

However, there has been a recent move to create a domestic league, not only in basketball but also in hockey and football. Instead of offering advice to the creators of these leagues, Woodard made an appeal to the public.

“Support them. They love what they do. This is their craft. This is their craft. It’s different. But support them and you’ll be proud of them one day.”

Support in Canada

The WNBA holds its first game in Canada in May when the Minnesota Lynx (featuring Bridget Carleton of Chatham, Ont.) play the Chicago Sky in an exhibition in Toronto.

Interest in the sport was revealed when tickets were hard to come by within minutes of their release.

“The whole stadium is going to be packed to capacity for a women’s game, an exhibition. Are you kidding me? It’s a long time. I’d be taking pictures everywhere. It’s going to be a moment to remember,” Woodard said.

Woodard added that kids at the game would have a chance to form the same dream she did watching the Globetrotters.

“It’s going to be an energy and just a vibration that will carry them into what they want to do for a long, long time.”

Woodard works as a special adviser to the Globetrotters, who now have six women, plus one more on the Washington Generals, the Globetrotters’ archrival.

“You have men in management. They need to have an ear. And there are some challenges that we face out there that we need to talk about. And I want to help make it better for them in any way I can.

“Maybe one day it will be an all women’s team. Who knows?”

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