Meadowlark Lemon, star of 'Harlem Globetrotters,' dies at 83

Mon Dec 28, 2015 10:17am EST
 
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By Bill Trott

(Reuters) - Meadowlark Lemon, the court jester of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team who delighted audiences around the world for some 25 years with an array of trick shots, comedy routines and pure charisma, has died at the age of 83, the team announced on Monday.

Lemon, who had started a ministry and become a motivational speaker in his later years, died on Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona, according to the Globetrotters website.

Lemon was the undisputed master of the long-range hook shot, rubber-band ball and other crowd-pleasing tricks during the years he wore the Globetrotters' star-spangled red, white and blue uniform.

The team's website said he played in 7,500 consecutive games - the equivalent of more than 92 NBA seasons - in some 100 countries before audiences that included everyone from Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to three popes.

He was born Meadow Lemon III in Wilmington, North Carolina, and was unfamiliar with not just the Globetrotters but the game of basketball until he saw a newsreel about the team at a movie theater at the age of 11. He was entranced by the sight of black men taking such a joyous approach to a game during a time of segregation.

"They seemed to make that ball talk," Lemon said when inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. "I said, 'That's mine. This is for me.' I was receiving a vision, I was receiving a dream in my heart.'"

He rushed home from the theater that day and started fulfilling the dream by fashioning a basketball goal from a clothes hanger and an onion sack and using a tin can for a basketball.

After briefly attending Florida A&M University and serving in the U.S. Army, Lemon's dream would be fully realized when he joined the Globetrotters in 1954. In 1958 he succeeded Goose Tatum as the team's main clown, a position he held for 20 years.   Continued...

 
Former Harlem Globetrotter and Basketball Hall of Famer Meadow "Meadowlark" Lemon poses for a portrait in Scottsdale, Arizona December 7, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott