Hot Shot proves size no issue for Harlem Globetrotters


New York (AFP)

Known as the "Michael Jordan of dwarf basketball," Jahmani Swanson is only four foot five, but he's now a Harlem Globetrotter, electrifying fans in the culmination of a childhood dream.

Signing with the world-famous exhibition team earlier this month for their 2018 world tour, the 32-year-old was mobbed on court by dozens of fans queueing for a photo or an autograph after his first appearance.

Born and bred in Harlem, a New Yorker through and through, who's Globetrotter nickname as "Hot Shot," his debut at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn proved that he is already the team's most popular player.

A social media sensation with a litany of YouTube videos dubbed "Mani Love," "Lil Engine" or "The Athlete" that showcase his unique style of play, dribbling the ball between the legs of challengers, thrashing actor Jamie Foxx in a one-on-one or shooting a hoop from all angles.

"I think he's a nice addition, just because of his size. That brings a lot of attention to him," says Kenyon Pickering, who watched the game with his children. "He's definitely going to sell a lot of tickets."

Swanson, who is at least 22 centimeters (over eight inches) shorter than any other Globetrotter ever, is excellent advertising for the entertaining team who have dazzled millions around the world with basketball wizardry.

But if he'll take part, along with the rest in the entertainment, then "Hot Shot" is anything but a curiosity -- he is a real basketball player through and through.

Questions and doubts about his abilities are nothing new -- he grew up with them, being stared at, pointed at and made fun of.

"I'm proving myself everyday," he smiles.

"Every gym, every city I walk into, people are staring down, some are laughing, asking 'who is little dude? What can he do?' And that first shot, or that first move, people are going crazy."

Born to a dwarf mom and an average height dad, Swanson learned to dribble and walk at the same time, recalls mom Sabrina.

- 'Feel seven foot tall' -

He quickly became inseparable from the ball, keeping a portable hoop and playing day and night, driving the neighbors crazy. "I used to read my book and dribble the basketball at the same time," he says.

When he started playing organized basketball at the age of eight or nine, Sabring says "they wanted to treat him a little different. I told them: 'no, treat him like everybody else'."

But if he had to work 10 times harder than anyone else, Jahmani proved himself a formidable player, mastering the basketball and shooting a hoop designed for players at least well over a foot (40 cm) taller.

His mom only ever treated him and his brother as though they were average size people. "She prepped us... That's how I live my life. When I'm walking the street, I feel like I'm seven foot tall."

His role models were not dwarf players or the smaller men in the NBA, but the towering legend of them all -- six foot, six Michael Jordan.

"Everything he did, I practiced," he says. Sometimes he even sticks out his tongue, Jordan-style as he goes to the basket.

Fifty-year-old Sabrina couldn't be prouder.

"He didn't make the NBA but he's entertaining and inspiring the whole world on how you could do anything you want if you put your heart and soul to it," she says.

"We don't want to let it go to his head. That's why I stay around."

Her son is enjoying every moment.

"I dreamed of this moment as a kid," he says. "I never thought I'd be a Harlem Globetrotter. It makes this a Cinderella magical story. It's just amazing. The journey. The work. Practicing everyday. Overcoming adversity. Proving to people that I could be here, that I could play."