Wilmington native Meadowlark Lemon dies at 83

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — An international sports icon with roots here in the Port City has died.

Many people think of Wilmington as the home of Michael Jordan, but before No. 23 was making a name for himself, Wilmington was the birthplace of another basketball legend: Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon.

“He was close to being a god around here,” Ron Coley, who used to coach basketball in Wilmington, said.

For Lemon, known as the “Clown Prince of Basketball,” it all started when he saw a newsreel of the Globetrotters when he was just 11 years old. His dream was to play ball with the basketball entertainers, and in 1955, that dream became a reality. But his career started with a homemade coat-hanger hoop and an old can used as a ball right here in Wilmington, where he was active in the Boys Club.

“Meadowlark always embraced Wilmington, too,” Coley said. “He’d come back and see Earl, and come back to the club. He was always a good Wilmingtonian.”

On Sunday Lemon died in Arizona, where he lived.

Today he is remembered as not only a sports icon, but an entertainer as well.

“Seeing (the Globetrotters) in Kinston when I was about 9 years old, it was just entertaining, you know, with the water bucket trick and all those,” Coley said. “It was quite entertaining. I wasn’t really a lover of basketball, but I loved the show at the time.”

Securing spots in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame and Wilmington Walk of Fame, it’s safe to say that Lemon was a legend, but Wilmington basketball fans have faith that more greats will come from the port city in the future.

“Whether it be girls basketball, boys basketball, we have a lot of great talent to come out of Wilmington,” Quandrae Dixon, who coaches basketball skill development, said. “So even though Michael Jordan is a great player, Meadowlark was a great player to come out of Wilmington, I think there’s a lot of other great players that will also come out of Wilmington.”

During his career with the Globetrotters Lemon played more than 16,000 games in more than 100 countries.

Categories: Local, New Hanover, Sports

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