Meadowlark Lemon, Clown Prince of the Harlem Globetrotters, Dies at 83

Meadowlark Lemon AP
Scottsdale, AZ

Meadowlark Lemon, one of the most famous individual members of the Harlem Globetrotter basketball team—the man designated as the team’s “clown prince”—has passed at the age of 83.

Lemon’s wife and daughter confirmed that he died on Sunday at his Scottsdale, Arizona, home. The cause of death has not been made public.

Born in 1932 in Wilmington, N.C., Lemon was amazingly adept at a long list of tricks that became a staple of the Globetrotters even after he left the team in 1978. From his no-look pass behind his back, to those rarely missed halfcourt hook shots and his signature bucket of confetti in the face of “unsuspecting” referees, Lemon became a beloved international figure.

For two decades Lemon was more or less the face of the team playing more than 16,000 games for the Globetrotters during his 24-year stint. He was called the “clown prince” of the Globetrotters and became famous the world over playing before presidents, popes, kings, and queens.

“My destiny was to make people happy,” he said as he was inducted into the basketball hall in 2003.

He was also an inspiration to millions of people after starting with the team in 1954 and playing during the end of Jim Crow and into the civil rights era. He influenced many including Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain, who once said, “Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen. People would say it would be Dr. J or even Jordan. For me, it would be Meadowlark Lemon”

Along with the international acclaim, Lemon was also a 2003 inductee of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Many children of the 1970s remember Lemon from Saturday morning cartoons when he “starred,” so to speak, in a 1970s era Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. The 22-episode series, “Harlem Globetrotters,” became one of the first cartoons ever to feature an almost entirely African American cast. Lemon, though, didn’t voice his own character. That job went to Scatman Crothers.

After he left the team in 1978 after a salary dispute, Lemon founded several other touring teams including Meadowlark Lemon’s Bucketeers, the Shooting Stars, and Meadowlark Lemon’s Harlem All-Stars, though none of those efforts became as famous as the Globetrotters.

Still, acknowledging his status as a Globetrotter legend, Lemon toured one last time with the famed team in 1994.

A born-again Christian, Lemon became an ordained minister in 1986 and eventually settled in Scottsdale where he ran his Meadowlark Lemon Ministries, Inc., in an effort to reach out to youthful offenders.

“I feel if I can touch a kid in youth prison, he won’t go to the adult prison,” Lemon said in 2003.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at