It is very rare in sports that you can find a player that had amazing skills and can entertain all those that watch. That is what a man from Wilmington, NC did for 22 years with one of the most famous basketball teams in the world. He eventually formed his own basketball team molding in into the same outfit of the team that made him a legend. He received the highest honor of any basketball player 12 years ago, made several appearance on television and became a voice that spread motivation and knowledge to many that he talked to. This past weekend, this legend of the hardwood and of God passed on.
Hall of Famer of the famed Harlem Globetrotters Meadowlark Lemon, whose given name is Meadow Lemon III passed away this past Sunday in Scottsdale, AZ, which was confirmed by Globetrotters spokesperson Brett Meister said this past Monday. He was 83 years old. At this time, no arrangements for his burial have been given.
Lemon is survived by his wife of 21 years Dr. Cynthia Lemon and his 10 children Richard, George, Beverly, Donna, Robin, Jonathan, Jamison, Angela, Crystal and Caleb.
“It seems as if he suddenly passed away in his sleep, very peacefully,” Donna, 54 of Wayne, PA said to the Daily News on Monday.
“We were shocked. He didn’t have any illnesses that we knew of. He was a healthy man. He never drank all of his days or smoked cigarettes. We just feel it was natural causes at age 83 after having lived a very full life.”
The journey to legendary status on the basketball court began for Lemon with a dream of playing for the famed Harlem Globetrotters after watching the team via a newsreel at a movie house at 11-years-old in Wilmington, N.C.
Lemon practiced nonstop trying to perfect what he saw on that newsreel and after serving in the Army for two years and playing for the Trotters on an overseas tour, he sent a letter to team management in Apr. 1952 requesting a tryout.
The owner at the time Abe Saperstein gave him a tryout and after playing on their developmental team, the Kansas City Stars, the man affectionately known as the “Clown Prince of Basketball” not only played for the team, starting in 1954, he ended up becoming a well-known wizard of the basketball with the ability to do extraordinary, out of this world acts with the basketball and being able to provide entertainment that made all of those in the stands laugh right out of their seats.
Lemon’s comic playbook consisted shooting half court shots that he would make more often than not on the first or second try. He would chase one of the officials on the court with a bucket of water and eventually splashing it in the face of the referee and then would return with another bucket filled with confetti that he would throw onto fans. He would also during the game pull down the pants of an unsuspecting ref.
Another of Lemon’s staples on the court is that he would bluff getting hurt and return to the hardwood with a trick basketball to shot at the charity stripe. Instead of the ball going to the hoop it would snap back and he would then swap the ball with a weighted one and present it to the game official who would drop it to the floor.
One of Lemon’s great acts during the game was the signature moment for the Globetrotters in which they would gather in a circle and put on display their ball-handling and passing skills to the song “Sweet Georgia Brown” that would play over the loud speaker.
His slapstick comedy on the hardwood combined with his exceptional skills became so appealing to many powers that be in basketball that he ended up receiving the highest honor by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame 15 years ago when he the recipient of the John Burn Award for Lifetime Achievement and three years later was inducted into the NBA Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2003.
Among the other awards and achievements on Lemon’s career resume include being inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1975; receiving Ebony Magazine’s Sports Legend Award in 1997; receiving the International Clown Hall of Fame Lifetime of Laughter Award in 2000; In 2001 receiving the Victor Award from the Academic of American Sports Awards and receiving his Globetrotters “Legends” Ring as part of the Harlem Globetrotters 75th Anniversary Celebration and in 2006 was recognized with a star on the Celebrate Wilmington, North Carolina Walk of Fame, which recognizes Wilmingtonians that have achieved national and international fame in their field.
Lemon played 24 seasons for the Globetrotters during their heyday from the middle of the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s where the team traveled by car, bus, train or plane nearly every night covering close to four million miles playing in 100 countries across the planet in front of popes, presidents, kings and queens. On average, the team played 325 games a year and each time Lemon dazzled on the court with his game and his trademark smile, even when he played in tough environments like the racially divided South back in the 1950s and early 1960s. That is something that earned the respect and admiration of a fellow Hall of Famer.
“Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen,” NBA great and former Globetrotter Wilt Chamberlin said back in 1999 just before his untimely passing. “People would say it would be Dr. J or even [Michael] Jordan. For me it would be Meadowlark Lemon.”
Lemon left the Globetrotters in 1979 after 26 seasons and began his own comedic basketball squad, Meadowlark Lemon’s Bucketeers (1980-83), which became the Shooting Stars (1984-87) and are today called Meadowlark Lemon’s Harlem All-Stars (1988-Today).
The mission of the team is to provide a wholesome entertainment alternative for families in the United States and abroad. It also uses its collective influence to help the youth of America to form healthy attitudes about themselves and others.
Having become one of the most recognizable faces on and off the court, Lemon appeared in several feature motion pictures like “The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh” alongside Hall of Famer Dr. Julius “Dr. J.” Erving, “Modern Romance” and “Crash Island.
Lemon also had many moments on the small screen as he starred alongside McLean Stevenson in two seasons of the television series on NBC “Hello Larry.” He also had guest starring roles on TV series “Diff’rent Strokes,” “Here’s Boomer” and “Alice”
Lemon even stepped into the music world with RCA and Cassablanca Records, where he recorded an album titled, “My Kids.”
The father of 10 said, “Just about everything I’ve ever wanted to tell a kid is laid out on that record. The message is one of universal love.
Lemon also released a CD on the Crossroads Music label titled “Welcome to My World,” which also featured the theme song of the Globetrotters “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
The epicenter though of Lemon’s life was being able to give to others and in 1986 he found the greatest way to impact others that come into contact with him when he became an ordained minister and in 1998 received his Doctorate of Divinity from Vision International University.
To put how much his services were requested into perspective, he served as the guest Chaplin for various teams in the NBA and NFL and for the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.
For many years, Lemon has hosted his own televised show “The Meadowlark Lemon Show” that was televised nationally and internationally through the Trinity Broadcasting Network and has won four Angel Awards. On the show, Lemon has interviewed nearly everyone from pro athletes, entertainers to ordinary folks who do amazing and extraordinary things.
Whether it is speaking to professionals or young people looking for guidance, Lemon passed along points on topics like how to achieve your dreams, the importance of why your attitude matters more than your talent, how to be positive 100 percent of the time, how to balance long-range plans and short term goals and short term goals.
One famed acronym he used a lot was “S-H-O-T,” which stood for Spirit, Health, Opportunity and Teamwork combined to fuel our passions, satisfy our heart’s desires, create opportunities for doing good and help others realize their dreams.
Along with his work in the church, Lemon in 1989 created a co-ed sports camp called Camp Meadowlark.
This specially created basketball camp was designed to improve the basketball skills of young people while also teaching them the importance of getting a great education and maintaining good health. The emphasis was on four attributes of basketball: physical, psychological, social and spiritual.
Over the years, Lemon has understood that when young people feel good about themselves, they will treat others with more respect.
“Realizing that hurting other people doesn’t make you important, it just makes you mean,” Lemon said once. “Think about ways you can be a leader without hurting others, like getting involved in sports, school groups and community activities. Remember that bullying isn’t just hitting someone or beating them up. Spreading gossip, calling someone mean names or leaving someone out of your game are other forms of bullying too. Follow the “Golden Rule” to treat others the way you want to be treated.
He was an entertainer on the hardwood that brought joy and laughter to those who watched. He did at a high level for many years and along the way was recognized and immortalized for it. More than anything else though Meadowlark Lemon used his great gifts on the hardwood to bring change and to make people understand that anybody can become great, but it does not happen unless you are willing to work hard and along the way respect an appreciate those that you come into contact with.
Information and quotes are courtesy of www.meadowlarklemon.org; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meadowlark_Lemon; Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015 Newsday article “The Showman” by The Associated Press; Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015 Daily News article “Had A Ball In Hoops” by Nicole Hensley and Nancy Dillion.