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RIP Meadowlark Lemon, the “clown prince” of the Harlem Globetrotters and the Buster Keaton of basketball.


By his count, Lemon played 26,000 games over two-plus decades with the Harlem Globetrotters. Lemon wasn’t the most talented player in the team’s storied history—far from it, if Ben Green’s excellent corrective history of the team, Spinning the Globe, is to be believed—but he arguably embodied its most important quality, its charming and irreverent personality. 

Lemon was a player who always wanted to play. His commitment to goofiness transcended other concerns, which sometimes got him in trouble—The New York Times’s obituary has a summary of his various feuds with civil rights leaders and teammates—but also made him a legend. No one fought with referees like Lemon or dribbled like him—he didn’t have the handles of Marques Haynes, but when Lemon high-stepped it was clear that he was the Buster Keaton of basketball. Many of his signature antics live on—there’s a hint of Lemon whenever a Globetrotter hits a half court shot or douses a referee with water. Lemon’s greatest legacy wasn’t pushing the limits of basketball—though he did that too—it was reminding us that, no matter what, it’s just a game and a pretty damn fun one at that. Two short documentaries about Lemon, featuring game clips, are below.