[Photo of Curly Neal (left) with Meadowlark Lemon via of Lemon's website.]
Meadowlark Lemon, a basketball player famous for his long contributions to the Harlem Globetrotters, passed away at the age of 83. He was a highly accomplished basketball player--not just a performer. But he excelled at the almost magical stunts that a Harlem Globetrotter show offers. Lemon, who was gifted at physical comedy, helped the team transition from a professional NBA team playing straight games to a theatrical troupe giving acrobatic exhibitions. The New York Times reports:
A gifted athlete with an entertainer’s hunger for the spotlight, Lemon, who dreamed of playing for the Globetrotters as a boy in North Carolina, joined the team in 1954, not long after leaving the Army. Within a few years, he had assumed the central role of showman, taking over from Reece Tatum, whom everyone called Goose, the Trotters’ long-reigning clown prince.
Tatum, who had left the team around the time Lemon joined it, was a superb ballplayer whose on-court gags — or reams, as the players called them — had established the team’s reputation for laugh-inducing wizardry at a championship level. […]
He chased referees with a bucket and surprised them with a shower of confetti instead of water. He dribbled above his head and walked with exaggerated steps. He mimicked a hitter in the batter’s box and, with teammates, pantomimed a baseball game. And both to torment the opposing team — as time went on, it was often a hired squad of foils — and to amuse the appreciative spectators, he laughed and he teased and he chattered and he smiled; like Tatum, he talked most of the time he was on the court.
-via Adam Baldwin