Thursday 8 December 2016

Harlem Globetrotters' 'clown prince' Meadowlark Lemon dies aged 83

Published 28/12/2015 | 15:41

Meadowlark Lemon, part of the Harlem Globetrotters (AP)
Meadowlark Lemon, part of the Harlem Globetrotters (AP)

Meadowlark Lemon, the "clown prince" of basketball's Harlem Globetrotters, whose blend of hook shots and humour brought joy to millions of fans around the world, has died at the age of 83.

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Lemon's wife and daughter confirmed to the team that he died on Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona, Globetrotters spokesman Brett Meister said. Mr Meister said he did not know the cause of death.

Though skilled enough to play professionally, Lemon instead wanted to entertain, his dream of playing for the Globetrotters hatched after watching a newsreel of the all-black team at a cinema house when he was 11.

Lemon ended up becoming arguably its most popular player, a showman known as much for his confetti-in-the-water-bucket routine and slapstick comedy as his half-court hook shots and no-look, behind-the-back passes.

A sign of his crossover appeal, Lemon was inducted to both the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and the International Clown Hall of Fame.

"My destiny was to make people happy," Lemon said as he was inducted into basketball hall as a contributor to the game in 2003.

Lemon played for the Globetrotters during the team's heyday from the mid-1950s to the late-1970s, delighting fans with his skills with a ball and a joke.

TraveLling by car, bus, train or plane nearly every night, Lemon covered nearly four million miles to play in more than 100 countries and in front of popes and presidents, kings and queens.

Known as the "Clown Prince of Basketball," he averaged 325 games per year during his prime, that luminous smile never dimming.

"Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I've ever seen," NBA great and former Globetrotter Wilt Chamberlain said shortly before his death in 1999.

"People would say it would be Dr. J or even (Michael) Jordan. For me it would be Meadowlark Lemon."

Lemon spent 24 years with the Globetrotters, doing tours through the racially-torn South in the 1950s until he left in 1979 to start his own team.

He was one of the most popular athletes in the world during the prime of his career thanks to a unique blend of athleticism and showmanship.

Playing against the team's nightly foil, the Washington Generals, Lemon left fans in awe with an array of hook shots, no-look passes and the nifty moves he put on display during the Globetrotters' famous circle while "Sweet Georgia Brown" played over the loudspeaker.

He also had a knack for sending the fans home with a smile every night, whether it was with his running commentary, putting confetti in a water bucket or pulling down the pants of an "unsuspecting" referee.

"We played serious games too, against the Olympic teams and the College All-Stars," Lemon said. "But that didn't stop us from putting the comedy in there."

Lemon became an icon in the 1970s, appearing in movies including The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, numerous talk shows and even a stint in the cartoon Scooby Doo, with Scatman Crothers doing his voice.

After leaving the Globetrotters, Lemon started his own team, The Bucketeers, and played on a variety of teams before rejoining the Globetrotters for a short tour in 1994.

Lemon spent the last years of his life trying to spread a message of faith through basketball.

He became an ordained minister in 1986 and was a motivational speaker, touring the country to meet with children at basketball camps and youth prisons with his Scottsdale-based Meadowlark Lemon Ministries.

Born in 1932, Meadow George Lemon III - he lengthened his name after joining the Globetrotters - did not have money for a basketball when he was young, so he rigged up a makeshift hoop in his backyard in North Carolina.

Using a coat hanger and onion sack for the basket, he made his first shot with an empty milk can.

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