Harlem Globetrotters Legend Meadowlark Lemon Dies at 83

Famed Harlem Globetrotter Clown Prince Meadowlark Lemon passed away on Sunday.

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Dec 28 2015, 3:40pm

Meadowlark Lemon, perhaps the most well-known Harlem Globetrotter of all time, passed away at age 83 in his Scottsdale, Arizona home on Sunday. The New York Times first reported the news, with confirmation from his wife, Cynthia Lemon.

The Globetrotters were already somewhat famous when Lemon was a child. During his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Lemon said he saw the Globetrotters on a newsreel in a movie theater when he was 11. "That's mine; this is for me," he said. "I was receiving a vision. I was receiving a dream in my heart." He joined the team in 1954 and soon replaced Reece Tatum as the Globetrotters' Clown Prince.

Lemon was known for his trick shots, no-look passes, and on-court pranks, but he also had legitimate chops. His signature shot was a half-court hook shot—a pretty high degree of difficulty trick to make a recurring feature. His one-time teammate, Wilt Chamberlain, had some high praise for Lemon.

"Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I've ever seen," Chamberlain said in a television interview not long before he died in 1999. "People would say it would be Dr. J or even Jordan. For me, it would be Meadowlark Lemon."

Globetrotters owner Abe Saperstein signed Chamberlain to a one-year contract in 1958 and he developed a gag where Chamberlain would pick Lemon up, toss him into the air, and catch him like a baby. Lemon was not just memorable on the court, he also had a way with words. In that same interview that he discussed Chamberlain's time with the team, Lemon said "Michael Jordan wanted to be like me," a play on Jordan's "Be like Mike" slogan.

Perhaps Lemon's most enduring contribution to the Globetrotters was the famous gag where he chased referees around with what appeared to be a bucket of water, but instead was just red, white, and blue confetti. I saw the Globetrotters as a kid well after Lemon stopped playing but that is the lasting image I have from that day.

Lemon, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, told Sports Illustrated in 2010 that he had no regrets about never playing against some of the greats, and he used the Ice Capades, of all things, to explain.

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."

[New York Times]