Published December 2023
By Ben Luschen | 6 min read
As the orange ball bounced off the hardwood floor and hurled toward her chest, there was no longer space in Mia Castañeda’s mind for worry or sadness or fear. Everything else faded away as she gripped the ball between her hands, turned toward the basket behind the three-point line, and took her first shot as a professional basketball player.
“It was a great feeling,” Castañeda says. “My first shot was a make, and for the first time in a long time, I played without thinking about my mom and about the language barrier and everything else. I just played.”
When she’s not traveling the globe as Ice with the Harlem Globetrotters or playing in Mexico’s professional league, Castañeda spends her days shooting hoops and practicing tricks at Scissortail Park. Her love for the game brought her from Texas to Oklahoma City in 2020 after Jonathan Reed, basketball coach and CEO of the OnPoint Academy in El Reno, offered to let her use the facilities to train.
“At that point, I was able to run and work out outside, but I wasn’t able to play, because everything was shut down because of COVID-19,” Castañeda says. “So I guess you could say I moved to Oklahoma for the basketball court.”
The Harlem Globetrotters signed Mia Castañeda in late 2022. Photo courtesy Whitney Bryan
Since she was seven years old, the court has been Castañeda’s happy place. She found safety there as a child when her family moved to a new town where she didn’t know anyone. As a preteen, she found freedom in the only place she could go unsupervised. She found her voice on the hardwood when a coach pushed her and her teammates too far, and Castañeda was forced to make a tough decision.
She played for Texas Tech coach Marlene Stollings, who was fired by the Division 1 university after a USA Today article detailed allegations of a “culture of abuse” under Stollings’ leadership. The coach drove away at least a dozen players, including Castañeda, who played only one season there.
Then her mom lost a battle with cancer, but Castañeda found refuge under a different arena’s lights and rediscovered her love for the game playing for Lobas de Aguascalientes, the lady wolves of Aguascalientes.
In April 2022, about a week after her mom died, Castañeda flew to Mexico to begin her professional basketball career. Castañeda’s grandparents were born there and moved to Texas to start their family. Castañeda had never visited Mexico but was able to become a citizen because of her grandparents. When she arrived in Aguascalientes for her first practice, Castañeda couldn’t speak any Spanish.
“I was surprised how much I could understand,” Castañeda says. “My grandma always spoke to us in Spanish. Our trainer spoke English, so he translated for me. And a couple of my teammates spoke some English. I’m not really sure how it worked. We just sort of figured it out.”
Once she stepped onto the court, though, Castañeda’s enthusiasm transcended all language barriers.
“After being pushed to my limits every day, there I was having fun,” she says. “I wasn’t being yelled at, and I wasn’t sprinting to every drill. It was just basketball, and that’s all I was focused on.”
Castañeda’s joy is what drew the attention of Harlem Globetrotters Vice President of Player and Tour Personnel Barry Hardy. After she returned to Oklahoma from her first season in Mexico, Castañeda’s agent convinced her to try out for the iconic team.
“We’re not looking for arrogance. We’re looking for confidence, and she had that,” Hardy says. “At tryouts, I observed the players coming in on the bus, and she was just being herself. Then on the court, she’s firing up those shots from deep, and she was making them. She had what it takes. We all recognized that.”
Castañeda is one of five female Globetrotters, the most women on the roster in the team’s ninety-seven-year history. Ice, as she’s known by fans, is famous for her four-point shots made from between the three-point line and half-court. She dances on the court and jumps into the stands to steal the occasional french fry. And she still can’t believe it when a fan runs up to her after a game wearing her jersey and asking for an autograph.
“I never would have thought this is what my life would end up being, but it’s been so much fun,” Castañeda says. “So I’m just playing basketball and going with the flow.”
The Harlem Globetrotters will play in Enid on March 22, Oklahoma City on March 23, and Tulsa on April 7, 2024. Tickets are on sale now.