Globetrotter legend, evangelist Meadowlark Lemon dies at 83

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |
Star player, Meadowlark Lemon, formerly of the Harlem Globe Trotters, warms up for the game. A regulation basketball court is set up on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS RANGER (CV-61) for an exhibition game by the San Diego Stars. The event was attended by crew members and families of the carriers USS CONSTELLATION (CV-64), USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) and invited guests of the San Diego Naval Training Center (NTC). The game was sponsored by the San Diego Sports Arena in cooperation with ESPN Sports network. | USN/DOD/Released

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (Christian Examiner) – The "Clown Prince" of basketball, George Meadow Lemon III or "Meadowlark Lemon"– a Harlem Globetrotters legend and ordained minister, died Sunday, Dec. 27. He was 83.

The slim, traveling preacher who grew up in Wilmington, N.C. started college at Florida A&M, and after two weeks left for the Army, and then for the Globetrotters.

That was in 1957 and he stayed for 22 years, playing in more than 16,000 games. The Globetrotters over the years have played more than 20,000 exhibition games in 120 countries. The teams combine athleticism, theater and comedy.

Lemon told the Hartford Courant in 1999 he could relate to Jesus, because, like the Savior, he too, had a sense of humor.

"First off, he picked the devil -- Judas -- to be an apostle, so the prophecy would be fulfilled," Lemon said. "He picked Matthew. A tax collector, man, nobody likes tax collectors."

Preaching, however, was no joke to the 6'3" funny man when he finally gave in to a calling he first shied away from.

"The more I shared my testimony, the more I enjoyed it. But I still wasn't ready to be called fulltime. Then, something supernatural began to happen. I began to see miracles," Lemon told the Hartford paper. "I said, 'Yeah, this is where I'm going.' At the same time, I saw I couldn't share my testimony more than once or twice in a church. I had to learn who I was. I had to get down and study."

In 1994, Lemon and his wife, Cynthia, founded Meadowlark Lemon Ministries, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he lived and served as a motivational and inspirational speaker. He had 10 children and was divorced from his first wife.

In 2003 he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

"A lot of people don't realize their calling in life," Lemon told the paper. "Being a pastor is not my calling. Being a traveling preacher is. I could have played in the NBA, but that wasn't my calling. That's not the reason I started playing basketball. A lot of people have asked me how I traveled on the bus all those years. I was just doing what I was called to do."