Legendary Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon remembered as one of the greats (w/video)
Meadowlark Lemon, whose half court hook shots, no-look behind-the-back passes and vivid clowning were marquee features of the feel-good traveling basketball show known as the Harlem Globetrotters for nearly a quarter-century, died on Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he lived. He was 83. [Times files]
By Washington Post
Published Dec. 28, 2015
When Meadow George Lemon walked into the Ritz Theater in Wilmington, N.C., at age 11, he didn’t have much going for him. He was born a second-class citizen in the Jim Crow South. His folks had split up, leaving his aunt and uncle to raise him — a skinny boy with a funny name “not at the top of anyone’s priority list,” as he later wrote. And, for a kid who looked forward to splurging 25 cents on westerns and adventure flicks, there was no clear way out.
Then, in the early 1940s, Lemon saw the newsreel that changed his life.
“The newsreel on this particular Saturday was about a new kind of team — a basketball team known as the Harlem Globetrotters,” he later wrote. “The players in the newsreel were unlike any I had ever seen. . . . They laughed, danced, and did ball tricks as they stood in a ‘Magic Circle’ and passed the ball to a jazzy tune called Sweet Georgia Brown. How they could play!” He added: “There was one other thing that was different about them, though. They were all black men. The same color as me.”
The man the world would come to know as Meadowlark Lemon — who died Sunday at 83, as the New York Times first reported — dreamed what seemed like an impossible dream: to play for the Globetrotters and conquer the globe. Yet, it came true.
“Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen,” basketball great Wilt Chamberlain, Lemon’s onetime teammate, said in a television interview shortly before his death in 1999, as the Times reported. “People would say it would be Dr. J or even Jordan. For me, it would be Meadowlark Lemon.”
Lemon began with virtually nothing: a basketball hoop fashioned out of an onion sack and a wire coat hanger nailed to a tree behind a neighbor’s house. His ball was an empty Carnation evaporated milk can salvaged from the garbage.
Eventually, these modest efforts let to greater things. Lemon was pulled out of a pickup game by a coach who saw his talent. The coach taught him the fundamentals — including the hook shot that would make Lemon famous.
Lemon, however, was loathe to give his mentor all the credit, saying he continued to work on the shot every day even after he perfected it.
“I learned to perfect the hook shot because I was taught by the very best coach I’ve ever known,” he wrote in a 2010 memoir. “. . . It was me.”