George “Meadowlark” Lemon, one of the central figures of the iconic Harlem Globetrotters basketball franchise that was a staple of 1970s and ’80s weekend TV either on ABC’s Wide World Of Sports or its own cartoon series, died Sunday in Arizona. He was 83.
Lemon, known as the “Clown Prince of Basketball,” played center for the Globetrotters in more than 16,000 games and 24 seasons beginning in 1955, becoming the linchpin of the traveling team’s antics that included throwing buckets of “water” (OK, it was confetti) on fans sitting courtside in their packed games and (more often then not) nailing half-court hook shots. The fans loved him — he became a pop culture icon, voicing his own character in Hanna-Barbara’s Harlem Globetrotters cartoon series in the early ’70s and with teammates Curly Neal and Marques Haynes in the 1974-1975 live-action Saturday morning show The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine. He also (memorably) appeared with the team on The Ed Sullivan Show, a couple of Gilligan’s Island episodes, three Scooby-Doo specials and as a pitchman for Charmin toilet paper.
Lemon played in more than 7,500 consecutive games in nearly 100 countries around the world. He was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003 for his contributions to the game. Born in Wilmington, N.C., Lemon spent the last several years as an ordained minister and motivational speaker.
“For a generation of fans, the name Meadowlark Lemon was synonymous with the Harlem Globetrotters,” said Globetrotters CEO Kurt Schneider. “He was an incredible entertainer and brought happiness and lifelong memories to millions around the world. We have lost a great ambassador of the game.”