By LARRY WEIGEL
Special to the Tribune
MANHATTAN — Meadowlark Lemon, the “Clown Prince of Basketball” for the Harlem Globetrotters, died in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Sunday Dec. 27. He was 83.
I met Meadowlark during June of 2008, when former Kansas State basketball great Jerry Venable, who also joined the Globetrotters, asked me to be the master of ceremonies at a charity golf tournament in Staunton, Va.
Meadowlark and his golfing buddy and former Globetrotter, Tyrone “Hollywood” Brown, were in the locker room at the golf course when I arrived.
I introduced myself and told Meadowlark I’d be the M.C. for the banquet later that evening and wanted to get some background information before I introduced him as the guest speaker.
I said, “Meadowlark, what is your real name?”
He replied, “Meadowlark.”
Then I asked, “What was your father’s name?”
He said, “Meadow Lemon, Jr.”
I didn’t go any further knowing the obvious answer to the third question would confirm that his grandfather’s name was Meadow Lemon, which makes Meadowlark — Meadowlark Lemon the III.
I only learned later after reading Meadowlark’s book, “Trust Your Next Shot,” that his father reminded me of Jim Croce’s song character, “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown, the Meanest Man in the Whole Damn Town.”
In the book, Meadowlark said, “My dad, who everyone called ‘Peanut’ was tough. You didn’t mess with him. He was known around town (Wilmington, N.C,) as a gambler’s gambler.”
“He carried a switchblade knife, set halfway open with a piece of match stick, so the handle dangled outside his pocket.
“There was a local legend that my dad was so fast with that knife that he once snapped it open and had it at a man’s throat during a card game before the man could even blink,” Meadowlark wrote.
The celebrity golfers and their sponsors gathered at the first tee where Meadowlark led the group in prayer. Meadowlark was an ordained minister who traveled throughout the country as a motivational speaker reaching out to those who, “may have lost their way spiritually” as he described it.
Meadowlark was a very gentle and soft-spoken man who led through example.
He was accustomed to rise every day at 4 a.m. and head to the gym for a two hour workout, and practice his signature half-court hook shot that he made 70 percent of the time with the Globetrotters.
I followed this larger-than-life legend of basketball around the golf course that day and then introduced him at the banquet that evening.
He inspired his audience with his presence.
I don’t remember all that the said, but remember what he wanted his listeners to remember.
He said, “I want you to remember that life’s most meaningless statistic is the halftime score, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s always halftime.”
Thank you Meadowlark for enriching that one day in my life.
Weigel is a long-time friend of former K-State coach Tex Winter who named his basketball-related stories Triangulate News to pay tribute to Winter’s triangle offense.
By LARRY WEIGEL