Meadowlark Lemon seemed a very unremarkable child, left by his divorced parents to be raised by his aunt and uncle, but according to the Washington Post, in the early 1940s, he saw a newsreel that would map the course of his future. During his career, he wrote about that newsreel.
“The newsreel on this particular Saturday was about a new kind of team — a basketball team known as the Harlem Globetrotters. The players in the newsreel were unlike any I had ever seen… They laughed, danced, and did ball tricks as they stood in a ‘Magic Circle’ and passed the ball to a jazzy tune called ‘Sweet Georgia Brown.’ How they could play!… There was one other thing that was different about them, though. They were all black men. The same color as me.”
— Golden St. Warriors (@warriors) December 29, 2015
Meadowlark Lemon was talented, but not very humble – or he just had a great sense of humor. Even though his mentor in his early days on the court was a coach who recognized his talent, he later wrote in his 2010 memoir that he learned from his best coach.
“I learned to perfect the hook shot because I was taught by the very best coach I’ve ever known… It was me.”
Meadowlark Lemon joined the Globetrotters in 1954 and he quickly became the central figure of the group. He knew the importance of the team and his acceptance into it.
“I knew when I joined the team that they were one of the most important institutions in the world. They had done more for the perception of black people and for the perception of America that almost anything you could think of. Some people say that the Globetrotters kept the NBA in business in its early years.”
Now, at the age of 83, Meadowlark Lemon has passed away. The New York Times reports that while Lemon’s wife, Cynthia, confirmed his death, no cause was given. Of course, the Globetrotters have paid tribute to Lemon on their Twitter feed.
Good night, Clown Prince. We’ll miss you. Rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/dhvQ8M8yf0
— Harlem Globetrotters (@Globies) December 29, 2015
Before his death in 1999, Wilt Chamberlain spoke in a TV interview and said that Meadowlark Lemon was the best.
“Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen. People would say it would be Dr. J or even Jordan. For me, it would be Meadowlark Lemon.”
Meadowlark Lemon may have been great, but he never did get a chance to play in the N.B.A. In 2010, Lemon told Sports Illustrated he never worried about it.
“I don’t worry that I never played against some of those guys. I’ll put it this way. When you go to the Ice Capades, you see all these beautiful skaters, and then you see the clown come out on the ice, stumbling and pretending like he can hardly stay up on his skates, just to make you laugh. A lot of times, that clown is the best skater of the bunch.”
Despite never playing in the N.B.A., Meadowlark Lemon did get inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. His talent on the court can never be questioned.
Meadowlark Lemon led a good life and had a lot of fun doing it. When he no longer played basketball, he turned to comedy and his faith. He left the Globetrotters in 1979 and created his own comedic basketball team. First, it was Meadowlark Lemon’s Bucketeers from 1980 to 1983, then the Shooting Stars from 1984 to 1987, and then the Meadowlark Lemon’s Harlem All Stars, which still exists today. In 1986, he also became an ordained minister and he and his wife founded the Meadowlark Lemon Ministries in 1994.
— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) December 28, 2015
Rest in Peace, Meadowlark Lemon.
[Photo by Mike Moore/Getty Images]