Who was Meadowlark Lemon?

I must confess, while researching this piece, I listened to the 1949 ‘novelty’ recording of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ by Brother Bones and His Shadows – which, for the uninitiated, was the signature of the Harlem Globetrotters – and was instantly transported back to the days of my childhood in the seventies. Readers of a certain age will understand what I mean when I say that, in their heyday, the Globetrotters, with whom the name Meadowlark Lemon was synonymous, were ‘everywhere’. Indeed, Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, once said that Lemon was ‘an inspiration not only to me, but to kids all around the world’.

Born Meadow Lemon III in Wilmington, North Carolina on April 25, 1932, the man who became known as the ‘Clown Prince of Basketball’ was first chosen to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. At 6’3″, Lemon was not especially tall for a basketball player but, while he never played in the National Basketball Association (NBA), his combination of athleticism, charisma and showmanship made him a fixture of a star-studded Globetrotters’ lineup for over two decades. All told, he played over 16,000 games for the world famous basketball exhibition team, including a 50-game ‘comeback’ season in 1993, when into his sixties. Such was his standing with the Globetrotters that he was one of such eight players to have his shirt number, 36, retired. In 2003, Lemon was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Facing perennial, and deliberately hapless, opponents, the Washington Generals on a nighly basis, Lemon had carte blanche to demonstrate his repertoire of half-court hook shots, no-look passes and other stunts. Comedic though his antics may have been, the late, great Wilt Chamberlain called him ‘the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen’.

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