Marvelous Meadowlark

Meadowlark

“My leg, my leg!”

Poor Meadowlark Lemon would hold his leg and wail in agony.

So loud that everybody in the huge basketball arena could hear him.

And, somehow, as his teammates helped him limp around the court, in comedic agony, the magic would happen.

The Globies would introduce the basketball that would not bounce.

Or the lopsided ball that would roll down the court like a drunk.

Or the water bucket filled with confetti that Meadowlark would use to douse a terrified referee.

There was nobody like the Harlem Globetrotters.

And Meadlowlark Lemon was the one and only Clown Prince of basketball.

I loved him so much, and listening to Sweet Georgia Brown still makes me smile.

It’s said that Meadowlark played in more than 16,000 games for the Globetrotters.

That he missed only one game in 24 years.

Because this was his mission.

But make no mistake, he was funny but also a great basketball player.

He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.

And I got to see him play.

It was in the mid-sixties and thanks to Steve Madden’s Dad, Sam.

Sam took us all the way to Oklahoma City to see the Globies, and, man oh man, Steve and I were starstruck.

Only as I am writing this, almost 50 years after the fact, do I realize that Meadowlark is the reason why Steve and I spent every Saturday morning of the world at Building 92 on the South Base, shooting thousands of half-court hook  shots.

Trying to be like Meadowlark.

Tonight, after reading about his passing in the New York Times, I did a bit of Googling, and realized that there was only one degree of separation between me and Meadowlark.

My first journalistic interview for the UT-Arlington Shorthorn was of the great Wilt Chamberlain, and Wilt played with Meadowlark in the 50’s and 60’s.

In fact, Wilt maybe saw more to Meadowlark than anybody else.

“Meadowlark was the most sensational, awesome, incredible basketball player I’ve ever seen. People would say it would be Dr. J or even Michael Jordan. For me, it would be Meadowlark Lemon,” said Chamberlain.

Sadly, I can’t find a good You Tube highlights reel of Meadowlark who, turns out, was the Rev. Meadowlark and a true minister, in his later years

But even so, I can STILL see and hear him in my mind’s eye:

  • wailing about his injured leg;
  • downing half-court hooks like they were free throws;
  • talking trash to the Refs and his opponents (the hapless Washington Generals) and;
  • smiling that 1,000-watt smile

If you have 20 minutes to spare, these are the speeches by the Globetrotters’s owner and Meadowlark himself when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

They’re worth watching.

And, in closing, from my heart, Dear Meadowlark, you made me laugh, and you affected my childhood in a good way.

On a much bigger scale, you helped white America quit being so afraid of black people.

Thank you for doing so much good, and for making so many people laugh.

Including Steve and me.

May the Perpetual Light shine upon you.

May you rest in peace.

 




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