Meadowlark Lemon, iconic star of the Harlem Globetrotters, dies at 83

Meadowlark Lemon, the iconic prankster whose smooth showmanship was the hallmark of the traveling basketball troupe known as the Harlem Globetrotters, has died, his wife told the New York Times. He was 83.

Lemon died Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he lived.

Famous for his long-distance hook shots, sublime passing and pranks that included dumping buckets of confetti on referees, Lemon became the Globetrotters' biggest star. His nearly 25-year career with the prolific team, from 1954-78, gave rise to popularity of the NBA

Aptly described in his Times obituary as the "ringmaster" of the Globetrotters' basketball circus, Lemon became known as the "Clown Prince of Basketball." A slender 6-foot-3, his feats of grace and comedy once attracted bigger crowds than NBA teams. The Globetrotters' victory over the Minneapolis Lakers in 1948 helped precipitate racial integration in the NBA.

The end of Lemon's career with the Globetrotters in 1978 buttressed the dawn of the NBA's golden era, with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson entering the league a year later. From Pete Maravich to Magic to the skillful showmen of today's NBA, Lemon's influence on the game ran deep. He was inducted in to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.

"Man, I've had a good run," he said at his enshrinement ceremony. "I've had a great run; it's been wonderful." 

Lemon grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, and lived out his days in Scottsdale, a place that he told the Arizona Republic in 2010 that he would remain "until Jesus comes." Having claimed on his website to have played more than 16,000 games in 100 countries, Lemon in recent years could be seen still polishing his iconic moves at a Jewish community center in Scottsdale.

“Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen,” Wilt Chamberlain, who played alongside him with the Globetrotters before becoming eligible for the NBA, once said in a television interview, according to the Times. “People would say it would be Dr. J or even Jordan. For me, it would be Meadowlark Lemon.”

Lemon is survived by his second wife, Cynthia, and had 10 children.


Meadowlark Lemon was an iconic star for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1954 to 1978. (Getty Images)
Meadowlark Lemon was an iconic star of the Harlem Globetrotters from 1954 to 1978. (Getty Images)
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