Tribute: Meadowlark Lemon, “Clown Prince of Basketball”

Today’s Tribute was written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Lead Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

“I had a dream, and I worked at it. I didn’t think about being the greatest or having an impact outside the game. I wanted to leave the game better than I found it.”                          ~ Meadowlark Lemon

On December 27, 2015, Meadowlark Lemon passed at the age of 83 in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was best known as a member of the famed Harlem Globetrotters basketball team who had a legendary patented hook shot and the ability for entertaining the audience. Lemon was honored with Ebony Magazine’s Sports Legends Award in 1997, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and received the John W. Bunn Award for his lifetime contributions to basketball in 2003. He was also a motivational speaker, minister, and author.

Photograph of First Lady Betty Ford Reaching to Pick up a Basketball Signed by the Harlem Globetrotters as Team Member Meadowlark Lemon Looks On, 12/6/1974 (NAID 186785)

Photograph of First Lady Betty Ford Reaching to Pick up a Basketball Signed by the Harlem Globetrotters as Team Member Meadowlark Lemon Looks On, 12/6/1974 (NAID 186785)

Born Meadow George Lemon, III on April 25, 1932 in Wilmington, North Carolina, he briefly attended Florida A&M University, before being drafted to serve in the US Army in 1952. After his time in the military, Lemon joined the Harlem Globetrotters in 1954, performing and playing basketball for twenty-four years. The Globetrotters played all over the world and Lemon’s style of play and performances made him one of the most popular players in the team’s history. Lemon appeared in several TV shows, including “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” “Scooby Doo,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and also starred in a Burger King commercial during the 1960s and 1970s.

The series Combined Military Service Digital Photographic Files, 1982-2007 (NAID 6274097) contains images of Meadowlark Lemon’s participation in an exhibition game aboard the USS Ranger (CV-61) in 1988. The game was sponsored by the San Diego Sports Arena, along with the ESPN Sports network. Members of the navy and their families were invited to attend the game.

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