Meadowlark Lemon, Star Of The Harlem Globetrotters, Dies
Updated December 29, 20157:24 AM ET
Published December 28, 20159:58 AM ET
Meadowlark Lemon, a star with the Harlem Globetrotters for nearly a quarter century, died on Sunday at the age of 83. He had dreamed of playing for the Globetrotters when he was growing up in the Jim Crow South and joined the team in 1954 after serving in the Army. He went on to arguably become its preeminent player, earning the moniker “the clown prince of basketball.”
Created in the 1920s, the Globetrotters provided one of the few opportunities for African-American men who wanted to play professional basketball. Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, spent one year with the team before joining the NBA in 1959.
Lemon was an elite athlete. He thrilled audiences with his long hook shots and ballhandling skills. But he and the Globetrotters emphasized their comedic side as well. Lemon would throw buckets of confetti on unsuspecting referees and fake injuries, among other gags.
Meadowlark Lemon, Harlem Globetrotters Dazzling Court Jester, Dies at 83
By BRUCE WEBER
December 28, 2015
New York Times
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Meadowlark Lemon, whose halfcourt hook shots, no-look behind-the-back passes and vivid clowning were marquee features of the feel-good traveling basketball show known as the Harlem Globetrotters for nearly a quarter-century, died on Sunday in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 83.
Tatum, who had left the team around the time Lemon joined it, was a superb ballplayer whose on-court gags or reams, as the players called them had established the teams reputation for laugh-inducing wizardry at a championship level.
This was a time when the Trotters were known for more than their comedy routines and basketball legerdemain; they were also recognized as a formidable competitive team. Their victory over the Minneapolis Lakers in 1948 was instrumental in integrating the National Basketball Association, and a decade later their owner, Abe Saperstein, signed a 7-footer out of the University of Kansas to a one-year contract before he was eligible for the N.B.A.: Wilt Chamberlain.
By then, Lemon, who was 6 feet 3 inches tall and slender, was the teams leading light, such a star that he played center while Chamberlain played guard.
Lemon was a slick ballhandler and a virtuoso passer, and he specialized in the long-distance hook, a trick shot he made with remarkable regularity. But it was his charisma and comic bravado that made him perhaps the most famous Globetrotter. For 22 years, until he left the team in 1978, Lemon was the Trotters ringmaster, directing their basketball circus from the pivot. He imitated Tatums reams, including spying on the oppositions huddle, and added his own.
He threatened referees or fans with a bucket that like as not was filled with confetti instead of water. He dribbled above his head and walked with exaggerated steps. He mimicked a hitter in the batters box and, with teammates, pantomimed a baseball game. And both to torment the opposing team as time went on, it was often a hired squad of foils and to amuse the appreciative spectators, he smiled and laughed and teased and chattered; like Tatum, he talked most of the time he was on the court.
The Trotters played in mammoth arenas and on dirt courts in African villages. They played in Rome before the pope; they played in Moscow during the Cold War before the Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev. In the United States, they played in small towns and big cities, in Madison Square Garden, in high school gyms, in cleared-out auditoriums even on the floor of a drained swimming pool. They performed their most entertaining ballhandling tricks, accompanied by their signature tune, Sweet Georgia Brown, on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Meadowlark Lemon dies at 83; ‘Clown Prince of Basketball’ spent 24 years with Harlem Globetrotters
December 28, 2015
Los Angeles Times
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Long before athletes tweeted, and in-your-face dunks and tackles could be shared by millions instantly, Meadowlark Lemon became one of the most popular sports personalities in the world.
His dazzling basketball skills and slapstick humor were a key attraction for perhaps the most famous basketball team ever, the Harlem Globetrotters. He became known as the “Clown Prince of Basketball,” appearing before presidents and kings and portraying himself in television programs, movies and cartoons.
Lemon “just had a great joy,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said Monday.
He died Sunday in Scottsdale, Ariz., at age 83. The cause of death was not known, said Brett Meister, a spokesman for the Globetrotters.
Meister said Lemon had been scheduled to fly from his Scottsdale home to Chicago to take part in taping an ESPN special as part of the Globetrotters’ 90th anniversary tour.
Lemon spent 24 years with the Globetrotters, joining the team in 1954 and acting as ringleader and showman-in-chief during the team’s heyday through the 1960s and ’70s.
Lemon and the Trotters toured more than 100 countries, introducing the sport to millions who had never before seen a basketball thrown through a hoop and breaking down cultural and racial barriers along the way.
During Lemon’s early days, the all-black Globetrotters’ influence was no less in the United States. The team showcased the talents of African American players such as Reece “Goose” Tatum and dribbling wizard Marques Haynes at a time when the fledgling National Basketball Assn. was largely white and lacked the razzle-dazzle of America’s first show-time team.
The Globetrotters played exhibition ball, mixing theater and sports. But they were also seriously competitive, especially in the early years. Their victory in 1948 over the Minneapolis Lakers helped put the NBA on the map.
Many have speculated that Lemon might have been a huge NBA star had the league been more welcoming to black players.
By the time Lemon departed the Globetrotters in 1978, the NBA was far more integrated, and a more aggressive athleticism was helping it gain worldwide popularity. Lemon’s basketball chops would influence Michael Jordan and other greats.
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