By JIM MISUNAS
Great Bend’s Allen Winder has traveled the world and worked with famous people along the way.
Thanks to a long-time relationship with Basketball Hall of Famer Meadowlark Lemon, Winder assisted the past five years with a international campaign to make sons and daughters of military personnel feel special.
“Meadowlark is the greatest of all time — the Clown Prince of basketball,” Winder said. “For so many years, the face of Meadowlark Lemon was on my wall at home. It’s hard for me to take him off that wall.”
Winder was nicknamed as the blue-eyed soul brother in his 20s when he played for the Bucketeers, which featured Basketball Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Marquis Haynes, the greatest dribbler of all-time. Many of the Bucketeers gained notoriety when they entertained audiences for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Meadowlark left the Harlem Globetrotters in 1978 to create another all-black comedy basketball team — Meadowlark Lemon’s Bucketeers.
Winder owns the only video footage to his knowledge of Wilt and Meadowlark playing with each other during Bucketeer shows.
Winder played basketball for the University of Houston for three years when he chose to leave the sport he loved because he was burned out.
Timing is everything.
That’s when Winder got a phone call from an associate of Meadowlark Lemon that changed his life.
“I guess it was fate, karma — that kind of thing,” Winder said.
“Who could refuse an invitation from Meadowlark Lemon?” Winder asked.
After a tryout, the plan was for Winder to guard Wilt Chamberlain on an NBC Sports World Special. Chamberlain started his professional career with the Globetrotters before reuniting with Meadowlark Lemon.
But Lemon’s plan changed when Winder’s tryout went so well that he was asked to play with the Bucketeers instead of as an opponent.
“I was in awe — Wilt and Meadowlark had been hanging on my wall all my life and now I had the opportunity to “post” Wilt up,” Winder said. “I got ‘lucky,’ a few times, outquicked him and dunked on him. Seriously? I think that’s what got Meadowlark’s attention.”
Meadowlark asked Winder if he wanted to make sports history, and become the first white player to play comedian basketball alongside him, Wilt Chamberlain and Marques Haynes on Meadowlark Lemon’s Bucketeers.
“Break the color barrier in reverse,” Lemon said with his grin.
“I asked him if I had to wear those funky hats and uniforms. He replied, ‘Yes you do.’ So I did.”
Winder was in my early 20s and didn’t really understand what ‘breaking the color barrier in reverse’ meant.
“After breaking that barrier, there were several things to deal with,” Winder said. “Nothing like Jesse Owens or Jackie Robinson by any means, but it was uncomfortable now-and-then.”
Bruce Jenner pinned Winder with the nickname “Blue-Eyed Soul Brother” on Sports World in 1980.
When Wilder played for the Bucketeers, his engaging personality led to appearances on talk shows and TV specials on The Tonight Show, NBC and HBO.
“I became this (odd-to-me) phenom in basketball and some family entertainment circles for a couple of years,” Winder said. “It was a fun ride and I remember those years fondly.”
Winder earned his college of business degree at the University of Texas after competing with the Bucketeers. He began a business career in technology, first working for IBM then building several technology companies that he sold to other large corporations. When he retired from business about 10 years ago, I was running a $300M, 800 employee organization with direct line P&L to same.
“During my 25 years in technology, I’ve stayed very close to Meadow,” Winder said.
One of the corporations I was a part of at the Senior Executive Team level supplied multi-language, multi-currency enterprise software internationally to half of the Fortune 500. I had Meadowlark out to speak to C-level executives several times for different events. I once rented out the Pepsi Center in Chicago for him to speak!
After retiring from business, Winder ran a small charitable, NFP organization called Adub Studios — predominantly focused on sports photography and videography.
Winder and Meadowlark never lost touch.
“In 2010, after relentless recruiting by Meadowlark and Cynthia Lemon to run their operations, I went to work for Meadowlark Lemon Ministries directly and now run much of their day-to-day operations.”
Winder serves as director of operations for Meadowlark Lemon Ministries for the “Team Meadowlark for Military Teens,” project that will feature a camp in Innsbruck, Austria after Christmas. Military children from more than 22 countries are expected to participate.
They have teamed with Military Community Youth Ministries’ Club Beyond to produce a “Camp Meadowlark” at Club Beyond’s winter camp for military teens in Europe.
Being a former basketball globetrotter as a Bucketeer, humor and children have always been close to Winder’s heart.
“I’m dedicated to these kids more than ever and so thankful that I have been put in this position to make a difference in their lives,” Winder said. “I’m trying to do everything I can to make this an unforgettable experience for them. They are an overlooked segment of our military. They have to leave their friends. They worry about their moms and dads.”
Club Beyond® is the name used by Military Community Youth Ministries to identify its ministry with military high school and middle school aged children worldwide. Club Beyond staff and volunteers love young people and are available to journey with them through the hard challenges of adolescence, providing positive role models and exhibiting Christ-like behavior.
“It’s pretty fulfilling working with Meadowlark Lemon,” Winder said. “He knows a network of famous people.”
Winder said Meadowlark was one of the people he looked up as a young basketball player in Texas. Winder’s father took him to see the Harlem Globebrotters and he never lost that image of men entertaining children through the game of basketball.
A past video clip showed how much Winder respected Lemon’s ability to work with people. Winder was recruited
“It’s really beautiful the way that ‘Lark’ treats us all,” Winder said. “He makes me feel right at home. Everyone on this bus is like brothers, a family. It’s a neat way to live. The kids are another really exciting aspect of the game. Laughter is such an important factor in life. It gives you a deep satisfaction that you are out there for them. They can laugh and enjoy it like we enjoy it.”