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How Cherelle George discovered a house with the Harlem Globetrotters – WBUR

Basketball fans call it one of the greatest moments in NBA history.

It all went under during the first game of the 2001 finals: the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Philadelphia 76ers.

Most people had their bets placed on the Lakers who were sweeping the series.

But among those who chose the underdog was one girl who never missed a Sixers game – at least not after she first saw Allen Iverson for Philly.

"To be honest, Allen Iverson was the only player who changed my life," said Cherelle George. "He was like my hero."

& # 39; I want to do that & # 39;

Cherelle was a 16-year-old, 5-foot-3 aspiring point guard who often joked that she had to throw the ball pretty high to do a layup. When she entered high school, she realized that she wasn't going to get much bigger. But Iverson, who was three feet tall, gave Cherelle hope. He was proof that little people could play ball. And if she still had doubts, his performance in Game 1 wiped her out.

Cherelle was sitting at home with her eyes on the television as she watched it sink basket by basket – only the Lakers tore apart. By the final whistle at the end of extra time, he had a whopping 48 points and one win. But just before that, he took a move that would become a viral internet meme in the years to come. Cherelle could never forget:

"He pokes footsteps, takes a dribble, crosses it and shoots it like a fadeaway," recalls Cherelle. "Tyronn Lue denies the shot. Allen Iverson is still taking the shot."

Tyronn Lue stumbled and fell to the floor.

"And then Allen Iverson steps over Tyronn Lue and kind of looks at him," Cherelle continues. "And I said," Oh my God. That's great. "I want to do that." "

As soon as she got the chance, Cherelle went outside and practiced that crossover fadeaway shot over and over. But Cherelle didn't want to be Iverson's hit. Every time she came on the court, she felt her style and figured out how to make it to the top in her own way.

An obsession with basketball

Cherelle hails from the Reading, Pennsylvania projects, where neighborhood kids played street ball almost every day. When she was 4 years old, her mother noticed that her daughter loved to play with the neighbors despite her tiny hands. On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus brought the perfect present.

"I woke up the next morning with a Fisher Price hoop and a basketball and I remember bouncing around with it all day like I was excited," recalls Cherelle. "After that, I played every day. And as I got bigger – which I don't mean much bigger – I would raise it up and dive into it."

Dipping was fun and all, but Cherelle found dribbling was her real bread and butter. She could often find herself watching the men at the local court or in front of the television, rewinding And1 mixtapes and watching again.

"I was the kid who went into my room in the dark and only dribbled in the dark," says Cherelle. "Just dribble, no lights. Only in the dark, in my room, sometimes with my eyes closed. And it would drive my mother crazy."

Cherelle George's obsession with basketball started with a perfect gift from Santa Claus. (Courtesy Cherelle George)

Poor Mrs. Holly George didn't sleep much with Cherelle.

"We got up on the weekends – I got up super early. If I knew we had a game at 10am, I'd be up at 5am," says Cherelle. "I'm just pulling on my mom like & # 39; Get up mom!"

“She'd say, 'Girl, your game isn't until 10am. We have time.' But I just want: 'Don't forget. Set your alarm. Remember, "My mom didn't always have a car so we went to my games for hours. And I know my mom would be tired, but I knew she knew it would pay off."

During the Summer Blacktop League, Cherelle played in boys' teams and dominated – and wowed everyone with her skills. And when her family moved to Georgia, she became a star on her middle school team. Her mother knew that basketball could be Cherelle's ticket to the projects. It could give her access to free college education, and who knew – maybe an opportunity to travel the world.

But there was one aspect of Cherelle's game that coaches – and sometimes even her mother – found disturbing.

"I was in seventh grade and we were in a championship game," recalls Cherrell. "And there were still 20 seconds and we were up at two. So the coach tells me," Cherelle, pass the ball around, move the ball, we have 20 seconds! "And I literally dribbled the ball Off for 20 seconds. I put on a dribble show for 20 seconds, just walked between my legs. Just dazzled. And everyone just went crazy. So I always got this spotlight to show what I was working on in my room and on the courts I took advantage of it.

"Coaches would call me 'show boat', but I was the toughest worker on the pitch. Like attack, defense. I wanted to protect the best player. It was just part of my game. That's me."

A dream comes true … and a setback

During her junior and senior years at Newnan High School, Cherelle scored over 1,000 points and became an All-American nomination from McDonald & # 39; s. This is one of the highest honors a high school basketball player can get. Soon college recruiting letters were piling up in her mailbox.

The thing was, Cherelle's ACT results weren't good enough. So she settled on Iowa Western, a two-year junior college, where she wanted to improve her academics so she could eventually play in one of the best Division I schools. But her style of play didn't quite cut off there.

"My head coach was old school – very fundamentally healthy," says Cherelle. "So he and I conflicted my first year. I remember the first time I thought, 'Man, maybe I can't be who I am. Maybe I have to change my game for the team "There have been a couple of games where I'll do a flashy layup. Or I'll do an extra between the leg or a blinding move. And he'll just say," You're out. Come and get her out. & # 39; Even when I made the basket.

"My mother – oh my God – told everyone. You know, I remember her saying: 'We did it.'" "

Cherelle George

"And I remember getting super frustrated and crying a lot and not being happy – I even wanted to switch from Iowa Western because I felt like I just couldn't be myself.

"He … kept instilling in me like," Cherelle, I'm telling you, you want to play big Division I basketball? Less lightning, and keep it simple and basic. "" "

Cherelle then began to tone it down – buying into her trainer's program – and it paid off in many ways. In her sophomore year, she became the captain, losing 25 points per game. It broke records, received awards, and got even more attention from Boy Scouts.

Then finally came the day that she and her mother dreamed of. In 2005 she signed with Purdue University, one of the best women's basketball programs in the country.

"I became a boiler maker. Yes. I was excited," says Cherelle. "My mother – oh my god – told everyone. You know, I remember her saying, 'We did it,' you know. 'We did it. & # 39; ""

Cherelle did not stay in Purdue long. (Michael Conroy / AP)Cherelle did not stay in Purdue long. (Michael Conroy / AP)

Unfortunately, the basketball powerhouse never became a proper home for Cherelle.

In 2006 the school reported six NCAA coaching violations, one of which involved Cherelle, who had asked one of the assistants to help her process a paper.

Purdue suspended the coach and Cherelle indefinitely on "academic misconduct," an accusation Cherelle describes as an unfortunate mix-up.

"I remember calling my mom and saying, 'Man, I don't even know how to explain this to you,'" says Cherelle. "Because I knew she would be so hurt and disappointed. Especially knowing that I'm not the type of player who ever got into trouble in any university, not in high school."

What made it worse? Her suspension prevented her from moving to another team. So Cherelle had to train alone to make it to the pros. Two years later, she and her sister took a 10-hour road trip to Texas for a WNBA combine. Indiana Fever Boy Scouts liked what they saw and called her to training camp to see if she could make the final cut. She didn't.

“They said,“ You didn't make the final cut. But don't give up. ”Like,“ You did great. ”You know what I mean?“ You definitely deserve it, in this league "And I felt like the coach was serious," says Cherelle.

Cherelle returned to Georgia and continued training for the next opportunity. She got a job at a leisure center and looked for opportunities to play professionally abroad.

Then on August 21, 2010, she got a call.

"It was midnight," recalls Cherelle. "And I was in my apartment in Carrollton. And my sister was living with me at the time. She was downstairs and I heard her screaming. And I said, 'Rami, are you okay?'

"And she just gave me the phone. And I hear that gentleman 's voice. He said," I'm from the coroner's office. I have your mother's body. Holly George. "

Lose your hero and best friend

Her mother had a heart attack while driving on the highway. Officials found her dead behind the wheel. Cherelle had lost her hero and best friend. It was all too much for her to endure.

Cherelle says her mother was her heroine and best friend. (Courtesy Cherelle George)Cherelle says her mother was her heroine and best friend. (Courtesy Cherelle George)

The stress manifested itself physically. Cherelle's heart was beating fast, but she thought it was just adrenaline. She lost her appetite and quickly lost weight, but she thought it was just grief.

Then, before the funeral, her aunt noticed that Cherelle's eyes bulged out of her eye sockets and her throat swelled. Her aunt told her to see a doctor as soon as possible. Blood tests confirmed that Cherelle has Graves' disease, an incurable thyroid disease that can cause hair loss, bone damage, stroke and heart failure.

Without the right medication, Cherelle's life was in danger. And your basketball career? Forget it. It was too risky.

Finding the right medicine can be incredibly difficult for most people with Graves' disease. Cherelle's case was no different. Her doctors gave her a drug called propranolol, and as Cherelle's heart rate improved, her hair kept falling out, she felt tired all the time, and she was gaining weight like crazy.

"I was at 180 (pounds). Imagine that," says Cherelle. "I have a picture of myself that I don't share with anyone. You can't even see my eyes. My face is that big."

After two months of frequent appointments – after losing her mother and the game that gave her life – Cherelle walked into the doctor's office frustrated and fed up.

"And I said, 'I'm done,'" she recalls. "" I don't take this anymore. "He said," You can't take a cold turkey from the propranolol. You'll be dead in six months. "I remember just looking him in the eye and saying," I'm already dead. "

“I wanted to get rid of this disease, I wanted my body to stop attacking itself. I wanted to feel like me again. I wanted to live.

"I remember leaving his office and getting into my car and thinking, 'You won't come to this office anymore. w it's up to you.'" "

"I wanted to get rid of this disease. I wanted my body to stop attacking itself. I wanted to feel like myself again. I wanted to live."

Cherelle George

Cherelle then began a long journey of trial and error trying to figure out what her body needed. She took a risk by ignoring her doctor's advice, but over time her health began to improve. She did everything: cut out processed foods, eat them raw, take this herb and vitamin; she did acupuncture and cupping; saw a naturopathic doctor. Cherelle also moved to Florida in hopes that a new environment would help her heal.

"I've been in Florida for six months and (the doctor) called me and she said, 'You know what? I think it's time for a blood test. Let's take your blood test. Last time it was amazing. Time see where it is now, "says Cherelle. "And so I remember walking in and doing my blood tests to check my thyroid levels and they were normal. She said," You can play basketball again. You're good. There is nothing. " # 39; And I remember just yelling my eyes out. "

An unexpected offer

"After three years of just … fighting for my life, fighting for my body, fighting for myself, I remember feeling over the moon and just saying, 'I have to Find a team to play for, "says Cherelle.

Cherelle found a semi-pro team called Miami Lady Bulls and even started a successful youth basketball program. Her life came together better than ever and she had everything she needed: basketball and her health. The basics.

One day she was at a tournament training one of her travel teams when she felt like training. Between games, she grabbed a ball and found an open space to practice her exercises. She didn't know: someone was watching. It was one of the referees.

"He comes up to me and says," I think you could play for the Globetrotter. "" "

Cherelle George

“He walks up to me and says, 'Hey, my name is Keith Arnett and I've been watching you do your thing on the side,” recalls Cherelle. "You can really handle the ball, you can play. I'm a former Harlem Globetrotter referee and I think you could play for the Globetrotter."

That's right, the Harlem Globetrotters. Do you know this basketball troop of entertainers who are famous for their dazzling trick shots, fancy grabs, and side pranks?

"I'm like, 'Eh, man, stop playing with me,'" says Cherelle. "As" OK. Anyway. "He says," Well, I've got the Boy Scout's contact. "" "

Cherelle was the 16th woman to join the Harlem Globetrotters. (Courtesy Cherelle George)Cherelle was the 16th woman to join the Harlem Globetrotters. (Courtesy Cherelle George)

Keith wanted Cherelle to send videos to the scout immediately. But Cherelle had just settled into her new life. She didn't want to risk losing it all again to shoot something that might not work. But Keith was so persistent that she finally gave in and sent her videos.

"And about 10 minutes later I get a call. I'm not kidding," she says. "And it's the Scout of the Harlem Globetrotters." I want to fly you to Atlanta for an audition. "And I say," way. It really happens. He didn't lie. "" "

w if you tried it, Cherelle would tell you that she had no tricks. If the coaches asked her to spin the ball on her finger or roll the ball off her chest, she would be in trouble. Although she didn't have these special maneuvers up her sleeve, she had her inner child in her back pocket.

This young woman who had an Iverson booty in her crotch. The little girl who studied And1 moves like it's her job. And for the first time in a while, she didn't have to hold back. She pulled out her secret weapon: the dribbling between the legs – a movement that looks as difficult as it sounds.

The buses were sold. They loved its energy, loved the way it was lighting the yard.

In 2017 Cherelle signed for her first tour in Kentucky. And when the crowd cheered to welcome her to court, she was reintroduced into the world under her new name: Torch.

Live the dream

Today Torch is a professional show boat with no one telling her to "tone down", do things her way, or "stick to the basics".

One of Cherelle's many fans. (Courtesy Cherelle George)One of Cherelle's many fans. (Courtesy Cherelle George)

In 2018, she completed a record 32 dribbles between the legs in one minute. She consolidated this feat as the first female globetrotter to write the Guinness Book of Records.

"To believe that as a kid I did, just did, and now that I've moved in the hood I've made it in the history books," says Cherelle. “So many little girls have reached out to me on social media and sent me messages like, 'Man, you inspired me, and I want my own Guinness World Record now.' Even boys like, 'Me don't know how you took this step. "For example," I've been practicing since I saw you did it. I can't. I don't know how you did it. Is this real? "I mean," Yeah, it's real. "

"I only live to inspire these little children. These boys and girls who have dreams like me – who come from downtown, just like me. Every day I put this jersey on and every city. We go to every game feel like, "Man, I did it."

"I live the life that my mother and I always talked about."

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