My Kind of Shooter … the life and beautiful soul of a true giant
Maybe you’ve never heard of him. After all, he lived to be pretty old, and his greatest fame was 40-50 years ago. But you’ve almost certainly heard of his team. Because they did something no one else had ever done, and did it so well that no one else even tries.
And they did it for a reason that, we can hope, will never come again.
When Meadow Lemon, Jr. was born, he had a pretty lousy life laid out for him. Kids of African descent were treated to segregation and worse in the North Carolina city where he grew up. But one day he saw something that changed his life. A basketball team, composed of men who looked like him. (At this time, professional basketball teams in the United States only allowed white players). The team was called The Harlem Globetrotters, and Lemon knew at once that he wanted to join them and be like them.
As their family was too poor to afford actual basketball equipment, he made a hoop out of a coat hanger with an onion sack hanging from it, and used a milk can as a ball. And then he did what all youngsters hate to hear, but is the key to so much: he practiced, and practiced, and practiced. And he got good. Very good.
By the time Lemon reached adulthood, two things had changed. The National Basketball Association had begun letting some black players onto teams, and the Globetrotters had discovered that they could grow their popularity by focusing more on entertainment than competition. But all this suited him perfectly.
Before he got hired by the team in 1954, Meadow had changed his first name to Meadowlark, as he liked the idea of being associated with a songbird. And this was to become the essence of his life – that the key to existence is Joy.
Meadowlark Lemon’s brilliant gymnastics and irresistible charm raised the Globetrotters into true international superstars. They toured the world, turning the serious sport of basketball into a hilarious and magical experience. But at the same time, their games carried a serious message – they spent the whole time making fun of their white opponents and officials.
Take a look at this video, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. There’s never been anything quite like them. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Harlem_Globetrotters_in_Scheveningen.ogv And the one having the most fun out there – and the most popular for the crowds – is our friend Meadowlark.
Now you might note the time we’re talking about. While the Globetrotters were having fun on the court, African-Americans were fighting for their rights to equality, being insulted, shot at, even having some of us dogs set onto them. They were becoming bigger in music than ever before, with great demanding songs like “Respect” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” And the Globetrotters were saying the same things, but in a way that made little children everywhere laugh. And Lemon and his teammates weren’t expressing anger and fury (as they had every right to), but love and fun.
Before long, the Globetrotters were so “mainstream” there was a children’s cartoon series about them. And the idea of segregating sports became seen as completely absurd (Why in the world would a team not want to have the best players it could have?!). One of the Globetrotters, Wilt Chamberlain, left and became the greatest competitive player of his time. But even he acknowledged that the finest player he’d ever seen was Meadowlark Lemon.
So why didn’t Lemon go “pro” like his friend? It was clear – he had way too much fun performing. He loved the audiences, and he especially loved the kids.
Eventually, he even became a minister, but he didn’t leave basketball comedy behind – he used his skills and charisma to reach out to kids around the world and build up their courage and optimism with his message of hope and love. And, as always, joy.
By the time he passed on, Lemon was able to see a very different world than the one he’d grown up in. Racial segregation is seen around the world as wrong and stupid; basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world; and while racism certainly still exists, it has to hide itself in other forms, as it’s universally despised. Lemon had something to do with all of these changes.
So why am I writing about him this month? Because I see so much anger out there. So much violence. And so many of the people committing it argue that they have good reason to do so. They kill because their people have been mistreated, because their religion has been insulted, because the way things are just isn’t fair.
And I’m not here to tell you that any of their arguments are wrong. But I do have one simple question: does the violence ever actually make anything better?
In my country, a politician argued a few weeks ago that members of a particular religion should be kept from entering the country. Soon after that, some members of that religion committed a horrible act of violence. This only helped that politician. Imagine if, instead, those people had done something to make all their countrymen love and appreciate them; they could have been responsible for ending that man’s political career!
So to those of you who write me about the unfairness of the world, about oppression, about prejudice… please know, I support your voice. When you write, when you sing, when you scream, when you march, when you post, I bow to you.
But please take just a moment to think about Meadowlark Lemon and his teammates. And see if you can, besides expressing your anger, if you can do something to make the world look at you in a way that lets them see your joy.
Because if you do, they can never dismiss you again.
Hey, it sure works for this pup.