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Globetrotter Star Meadowlark Lemon Dies At 83


Basketball Hall of Famer Meadowlark Lemon has died. He was born Meadow Lemon III, but he came to be known as the clown prince of basketball during more than two decades with the Harlem Globetrotters. Lemon died yesterday at his home in Arizona at the age of 83. NPR's Joel Rose has this appreciation.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: When Meadowlark Lemon joined the Globetrotters in the 1950s, the team and not the NBA was the biggest brand in professional basketball.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: Hey - Globetrotters, oh, yeah.

ROSE: The team even had its own cartoon series in the '70s. Lemon dazzled generations of fans with his no-look passes and hook shots from half-court. Lemon said he fell in love with basketball the first time he saw the game on a a newsreel.


MEADOWLARK LEMON: When they got to the basketball court, they seemed to make that ball talk. I said that's mine. This is for me.

ROSE: At his induction into the basketball Hall of Fame, Lemon said he had to make his own basket as a kid in Wilmington, N.C.


LEMON: I made my hoop out of a coat hanger and onion sack, and I nailed it up across the street on a tree. For my basketball, I had a Carnation milk can. And I'd swing around, and I'd learn how to shoot that hook shot.

ROSE: That hook shot took Lemon all over the world. He started playing for the Globetrotters in 1955 when the team was the top destination for African-American players who were mostly shut out of the NBA.

TODD BOYD: These guys were incredible basketball players. These guys influenced the way the game would be played.

ROSE: Todd Boyd teaches at the University of Southern California. He says Lemon helped shape the free-flowing style of play that fueled the rise of the NBA. But to some, Boyd says, the Globetrotters act started to seem dated by the 1970s.

BOYD: There was a sort of entertainment component to it with emphasis on clowning that suggested that black men were for the purpose of entertaining white audiences.

ROSE: Still, Meadowlark Lemon insisted Globetrotters were more than just court jesters, as he told NPR in 2001.


LEMON: I'm not a clown. I'm a comedian, and that's the way we try to display ourselves. Yes, we can put on a show, but we can play.

ROSE: No one who saw Meadowlark Lemon on a basketball court would disagree. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.