by Rob Joyce
A basketball legend died on Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona, with the passing of Meadowlark Lemon. The “Clown Prince of Basketball” spent 22 years playing for the Harlem Globetrotters. During his time, Lemon transcended basketball, as he became a world icon during the team’s peak of the 1960s and 1970s.
He is the name most synonymous with the Globetrotters, along with these other legends:
5) Curly Neal:
Fred “Curly” Neal spent 22 years with the Globetrotters, from 1963-85. Gaining his nickname because of his shaved-head (like Curly from the Three Stooges), he was the team’s premiere ball-handler during his tenure. Along with Lemon they were recognized worldwide for both their on-court antics and their off-the-court celebrity (their 1970s TV show, appearances on national TV, etc).
4) Wilt Chamberlain:
His time with the Globetrotters was short, but memorable. After wanting to make money playing basketball, Chamberlain left the University of Kansas after his junior year in 1958; however the NBA wouldn’t accept players who didn’t complete their studies. So Chamberlain filled his one year in limbo with the Globetrotters, as he played with Lemon and others on a tour of the USSR. Chamberlain would occasionally join the team during his NBA offseasons later on in his career, and in 2000 became the first player to have his number retired.
3) Goose Tatum:
The Globetrotters became what we know today – the goofy, comedic exhibition group more than a by-the-rules basketball team – in large part because of Tatum. Originally a barnstormed baseball player (he was teammates with Satchel Paige), he joined the Globetrotters in 1941, and was credited with inventing the hook shot. As the NBA started integrating African-Americans into their game and the popularity increased, the team started becoming more entertainment than organized sport, as Tatum became an original showman. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2011.
2) Marques Haynes:
One of Tatum’s teammates was Haynes, who was best known for his spectacular dribbling abilities and showmanship. He joined the Globetrotters in 1946 after he beat the team and caught the eye of owner Abe Saperstein. During his tenure with the team he toured 100 countries, was an influence to future legends Bob Cousy and Pete Maravich, and he was the first Globetrotter inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1998. He died in May 2015 at age 89.
1) Meadowlark Lemon:
In one of his last interviews before his death, Chamberlain said the best basketball player he ever saw wasn’t Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, or any other NBA legend. It was Lemon.
The North Carolina native’s first basketball experience came using a coat hanger, onion sack and a milk can. It ended an estimated 16,000 games later, and was capped by an induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.