Before the NBA hit it big, the Harlem Globetrotters were drawing huge crowds around the world for their virtuosic, goofy game of basketball. And from 1955 to 1978, the star player was Meadowlark Lemon, the "clown prince" of the team. Lemon died on Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he lived. He was 83.
When Lemon joined the team, a dream of his since his childhood in North Carolina, he took many of the tricks and gags of previous star attraction, Reece "Goose" Tatum, and added some of his own. He was also a great ball player, and the Globetrotters were a formidable competitive team before the rise of the NBA made them focus more on the comedy showmanship side of their game. When the New Jersey Reds beat the Trotters on Jan. 5, 1971, The New York Times reports, it ended a nine-year, 2,495-game winning streak.
Lemon was likely born April 25, 1932, in Wilmington, North Carolina (he may have been born in Lexington County, South Carolina). He learned to play basketball at a Wilmington boys' club, and tried out for the Globetrotters after a stint in the U.S. Army. After leaving the team amid a salary dispute in 1978, Lemon formed several of his own teams in the late 1970s and '80s. He was ordained a Christian minister in 1986 and founded Meadowlark Lemon Ministries with his wife in 1994. Lemon was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
"Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I've ever seen," said Wilt Chamberlain, who played with Lemon on the Globetrotters for a year in the late 1950s, before he died in 1999. "People would say it would be Dr. J or even Jordan. For me, it would be Meadowlark Lemon." You can learn more about the Lemon era of the Globetrotters, and see Lemon in action, in the clip from A&E Biography below. Peter Weber