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A woman in a men's world
by Enrique Peinado / January 10, 2004

"To be honest, I feel like a girl in a men's world. When we are on tour, the person in charge of the game always thinks that one of the boys is in charge of the team – never me. Any questions they have, they ask the boys. We are in the 21st century and women still don't get the respect we deserve. If we keep working hard, we'll overcome those obstacles one day."

That's apparently Ladè Majic's main goal when she puts on the uniform of the Harlem Ambassadors, the only men's pro basketball team in which the vicepresident, coach and biggest star is a woman.

When we get in touch with Ladè, she is in Japan – one of the middle stages in a tour that lasts nine months and has 190 games on schedule.

Ladè, who was born to Haitian parents and grew up speaking both English and French, is a show-woman She has the slick dribbling of those playgrounds legends he grew up playing with. Most of the offensive sets of the Harlem Ambassadors start with Ladè embarrassing the opponent's point guard. She earns respect that way. She has done that since he was a kid, when he learned to play in the backyard of her house in New Jersey.

"There was no asphalt, so you have to dribble between stones. Later, in the New York playgrounds [she is celebrity in many of them, including Rucker] I was always the smallest one and I have to get my shot adapted to the situation."

She became a legend not only in the playground, but also a great player on the hardwood. After being named MVP of the New Jersey state tournament, Ladè went to the University of Missouri, where she won the Big Eight conference championship once.

According to former teammate Tracy Ellis-Ward, now WNBA's director of basketball operations, "Ladè was the most spectacular point guard. She was the most impressive player in the East coast."

After one year playing in Israel and two stints coaching high school and college teams, sports and entertainment executive Dale Moss called her in 1989 to join a new team – the Harlem Ambassadors. Her life changed in that moment.

She wouldn't trade his experience with the Ambassadors for an opportunity to play in the WNBA. "They would have to pay me a salary taking in consideration who I am and the leadership skills I have," says Ladè, who participated in training camp with the New York Liberty once and shot a Buick TV commercial with Houston Comets' star Cynthia Cooper a few years ago.

Despite her connections with the WNBA, she criticizes the league.

"It's a fact that men can jump from prep to pros while women can't. That's an unacceptable double standard. I think it's offensive that you can't never see highlights of WNBA games on ESPN while you can see the NBA highlights all the time. I think women athletes don't get enough support."

That other Harlem team

Harlem, the tricolor ball, flashy basketball... The similarities between the Ambassador and the Globetrotters are pretty obvious, but they try to emphasize the differences. The first thing you can hear when you call the Ambassadors' office is: "Harlem Ambassadors, it's better than your grandfather's basketball show." And in interviews, they always call the Globetrotters "that other team in Harlem."

The main difference between them is that the Ambassadors have no official sparrings a la Washington Capitals. They always play against local teams in the cities they visit. They try to get closer to the fans and deliver positive messages like "stay in school, stay off drugs" and such. Being role models is part of the spirit of the team.

"We tell people 'do what we do', not 'do what we say'. Professional athletes are regarded as role models, but they are not role models," Ladè says. "I think they are hypocrites. I wish the people they [the NBA] use in their campaigns were really respectable."

The spirit is one of the differences between the Ambassadors and "that other team in Harlem." But the biggest difference is having someone like Ladè. She is the Queen of Show Basketball and wants to prove it. That's why the Ambassadors have issued a challenge: a one-on-one contest between Ladè and Globetrotter legend Paul "Showtime" Gaffney, the Clown Prince of Basketball.

"Whenever and wherever," says the brave Ladè Majic, who would probably have a hard time facing big man Gaffney.

Just another challenge for a woman who has overcome many other obstacles before.

Enrique Peinado writes for Gigantes and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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