George “Meadowlark” Lemon, the “Clown Prince of Basketball” who entertained fans as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters for 24 years, died Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona, the team announced. He was 83.
No cause of death has been given.
Lemon, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003, joined the Globetrotters in 1954 at age 22 and stayed with the traveling show until 1978, appearing in more than 16,000 games in more than 100 countries.
He is one of only five Globetrotters to have their numbers retired since the team was founded in Chicago in the 1920s.
“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.”
Lemon also received the John W. Bunn Award in 2003 for his outstanding lifetime contributions to basketball.
The Globetrotters said on Twitter that they’d dedicate the team’s 90th anniversary tour to Lemon and former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Marques Haynes, who died in May.
During his time with the team, Lemon appeared on several television shows and specials, including “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine”; an animated version of Lemon also appeared on “The Harlem Globetrotters” cartoon series and on episodes of “Scooby Doo.”
Lemon thrilled millions of fans around the world with his long hook shots, no-look passes, ballhandling skills and his ability to make fans laugh with the Globetrotters’ bag of tricks — including throwing buckets of confetti on unsuspecting fans as Lemon chased the referee with what was thought to be water.
He also awarded with the International Clown Hall of Fame’s Lifetime of Laughter Award in 2000.