Meadowlark Lemon, the Harlem Globetrotters great dubbed the “Clown Prince of Basketball,” passed away Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona. His wife Cynthia Lemon confirmed his death to the New York Times. Lemon was 83. No cause of death was given.
After starting his long tenure with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1955, Lemon quickly became the high-flying team’s main attraction; even in 1959, when the Globetrotters picked up a rookie named Wilt Chamberlain, Lemon’s ball handling and signature hook shot remained the focal point of their dazzling offense.
Lemon became the face of a Globetrotters team that morphed from legitimate competitive basketball team that challenged professional, college all-star and international teams to the antics-filled, showstopping but still-unbeatable Globetrotters.
“Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen,” Chamberlain said in 1999 (via New York Times). “People would say it would be Dr. J or even Jordan. For me, it would be Meadowlark Lemon.”
— Harlem Globetrotters (@Globies) December 28, 2015
Lemon claimed to have participated in an estimated 16,000 basketball games over a career that spanned 50 years. He left the Globetrotters in 1978, subsequently trying his hand at acting, including numerous commercials, an appearance in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh and vocal work on an episode of Scooby Doo.
By 1980, Lemon was back on the hardwood with a team he founded, the Bucketeers, and various other traveling squads, including his own Harlem All-Stars. In 1994, his last year as a basketball player, Lemon returned to the Globetrotters for 50 games. In recent years, he became an ordained minister and motivational speaker. Lemon was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
Various celebrities took to social media to mourn the passing of the athlete-entertainer, including Rob Lowe.
I mourn the passing of my childhood hero Meadowlark Lemon. As a cartoon, when paired with Scooby Doo and solving crimes, he was transcendent
— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) December 28, 2015