No exaggeration or embellishment. Meadowlark Lemon was my childhood hero and as an adult an inspiration. We were close friends and he served as a mentor and we spoke frequently on the phone and shared the stage at various events in over half a dozen states. He was larger than life from the stands and stood even taller in person.
As a child in Wilmington, NC he watched a movie at a local theater and saw an advertisement for the Harlem Globetrotters. He was mesmerized and he ran outside of the theater leaving all his buddies behind. When they asked him why he was leaving abruptly before the main movie started he yelled, “I have seen all I needed to” and from that moment he found both his calling and course for life. Growing up dirt poor and he couldn’t even afford his first basketball much less goal but that didn’t deter him.
He spent countless hours in rain, sleet, snow and intense summer heat shooting hoops. He slowly began working on his hook shot and he eventually made the roster for the legendary Globetrotters. He not only made the team but became arguably the most beloved Globetrotter to ever wear the iconic uniform. I have said for years those whom have come the farthest go the furthest.
He dazzled millions, distributed JOY to multiple generations, brought families together, hope to everyone he met and played in 16,000 consecutive games. It has been said, “your gift will make room for you and bring you before kings and great men” and it was true. He played before presidents, royalty and three popes. In 2003, the Clown Prince of Basketball was inducted into the prestigious Hall of Fame. It was Ali who coined the phrase “Clown Prince” and the king of the ring knew greatness when he say it.
Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain when asked who his favorite basketball player replied, “Most would say Dr J or Michael Jordan but for me it was Meadowlark Lemon.” High praise from the 7’1 center that won two championships and played in 13 NBA All Star games. Both Michael Jordan and James Worthy were also sons of Wilmington, NC nearly neighbors to Meadowlark but Air Jordan confessed to getting many of his early moves and drive by watching Meadowlark and the Globetrotters. Today, many African Americans dominate and even have ownership in the NBA but had it not been for folks like Meadowlark whom literally and single handed assisted taking down racial tension with their basketball comedy and prowess we may live in a very different world. Many whites had never laughed or looked at folks of color with delight but sadly disdain during those days. Their attitude and ability was a great segway to bridge races together. Folks like Kobe, LeBron and Stephen Curry today are indeed grateful for Lark and others whom were indeed game changers. Not just in a game but the Game of Life.
Meadowlark went straight to the top and never lost his JOY. He went through tough times before the civil rights was passed enabling people of color to dine with other folks. Instead of getting bitter he became better. One of my favorite pictures is the two of us standing next to the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial in Washington, DC. We spent the entire day together at various events and the two of us walked to the monument. It was meaningful for us and together we were “Ebony & Ivory.” He was my older brother from another mother and the legendary Lark and I joked I was the proverbial parakeet 🙂 Birds of a feather fly together. It is a fact I flew higher with him.
The man who was friends with Presidents befriended me and I forever will be grateful. We spoke in schools, churches and civic events together. Imagine my surprise when he asked me to write an endorsement for his most recent book TRUST YOUR NEXT SHOT along with Michael Jordan, Obama and other leaders. It was both humbling and a HUGE honor. He even took me as his guest to St Louis, MO to meet World Series Winner Albert Pujols, Stan Musial, Lou Brock and Don Mattingly. Ironically, they looked at him they way everyone else looked at them (RESPECT). We spent many hours together in public and alone and I never once saw him lose his cool or belittle another. He really was a class act. After this death I read of a man who offered to rebound for my friend and Hall of Fame player as he shot in a gym near his Arizona home. Lark politely declined because he said it made him lose focus and he wanted to “right his wrongs.” Therefore he would retrieve his own missed shots. He was both a motivator and minister and was probably more proud of the latter. He really was an ambassador of good will and God and made no apologies. It may be politically incorrect but he realized he had a God given gift.
Society knew of the showman but I was blessed to know the consummate gentleman with a servant’s heart. I learned early on “If I am too big to do small things than I would be too small to do big things.” Meadowlark reminded me in action that nothing is SMALL when we give our all. Meadowlark caught a VISION and then found his MISSION. He was personable and professional and persevered to the very end. He died last week (December 2015) at age 83 in his home of Scottsdale, AZ and left a legacy. Today, pause and take an inventory of your dreams. They won’t come to pass over night. Be diligent, work hard and be a team player. Meadowlark not only touched the world but ordinary folks like me. Meeting him was a game changer and he has inspired and elevated me to be better both on and off the platform. This new year I am beyond blessed and we will see each other again. You can BANK on that! But then again with Meadowlark it was NOTHING but NET.