Anyone who grew up in the 70s watching Saturday morning TV or the sports programming that followed will surely remember the iconic court jester George 'Meadowlark' Lemon. The basketball star has entertained millions of fans around the world as one of the most iconic members of the Harlem Globetrotters. He died this past Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona. The man was 83 years-old at the time of his passing. No cause of death is known.
Meadowlark Lemon played with the Harlem Globetrotters for 24 seasons. By his own estimation, he played in 16,000 games. The touring exhibition team, which is still active today, is known for its practical jokes, slick basketball handling and incredible on-court stunts. And they have always been easily recognizable by their iconic red, white and blue uniforms and multiyear winning streaks against unmatched opponents. Meadowlark Lemon is perhaps the most widely recognized Harlem Globetrotter that has ever played for the team.
He is one of the handfuls of Globetrotters that have actually transcended the sport of basketball, and was quite popular amongst kids who grew up in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. The athlete was forever immortalized in the animated Saturday morning TV show Harlem Globe Trotters, which debuted in the 70s. He also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and numerous episodes of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and its spinoffs. He also was at the forefront of many national TV commercials. The whole team gathered to remember their former teammate on Twitter, issuing the following statement.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved Meadowlark Lemon. He was 83. #RIPMeadowlark"
Meadowlark Lemon was well-known for sinking half-court hook shots. His on-court high jinks often overshadowed just how great a basketball player he was. He was quite proficient at behind-the-back passes, and one of his signature court moves was spying on his opponents' huddles. Over the years, he gained the nickname 'The Clown Prince of Basketball."
Meadowlark Lemon was also well known for pioneering a trademark Globtrotters routine where one of the players doses the referee with a bucket of water. Meadowlark Lemon would take the gag one step further, as he pretended to heave the bucket into the crowd, which would send fans running. Of course, it was only a bucket of confetti. This never stopped those in the front row from scrambling to get out of the way. Globetrotters CEO Kurt Schneider had this to say about the man's untimely passing.
"For a generation of fans, the name Meadowlark Lemon was synonymous with the Harlem Globetrotters. He was an incredible entertainer and brought happiness and lifelong memories to millions around the world. We have lost a great ambassador of the game."
NBA All-Star Shaquille O'Neal had this to say about the death of Meadowlark Lemon.
"The Great Meadowlark Lemon of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters dies at 83. Rest In Basketball Heaven Sir!"
Meadowlark Lemon joined the Harlem Globe Trotters in 1954 after having served 2 years in the Army. During his tour of duty with the team, he played in every conceivable venue, from high school gyms to Madison Square Garden. And he even participated in one Moscow game during the height of the Cold War. The athlete's personal website goes onto claim that he played for 'popes, kings, queens, presidents and regular basketball fans in almost 100 countries'.
Meadowlark Lemon left the Harlem Globe Trotters in 1979 over a salary dispute. He went on to form his own comedy basketball teams including Meadowlark Lemon's Bucketeers, the Shooting Stars and Meadowlark Lemon's Harlem All Stars. In 1993 he returned to play with the Harlem Globe Trotters on a 50 game comeback tour. 10 years later, in 2003, he would be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His past several years were spent as an ordained minister and motivational speaker.