George "Meadowlark" Lemon, known as the "Clown Prince of Basketball" with the Harlem Globetrotters for 24 years, died Sunday. He was 83.
Lemon entertained audiences by playing in "more than 7,500 consecutive games, performing for popes, kings, queens, presidents and innumerable fans in nearly 100 countries around the world," the Globetrotters announced on their website Monday morning.
Lemon thrilled fans with his long hook shots, ballhandling skills and passing the ball to the tones of the distinctive "Sweet Georgia Brown." Lemon made audiences laugh with the Globetrotters' trademark bag of tricks by throwing buckets of confetti on unsuspecting fans as he chased the referee with what was thought to be water.
Globetrotters spokesman Brett Meister said Lemon's wife and daughter confirmed to the team that he died in Scottsdale, Ariz. No cause of death has been given.
"For a generation of fans, the name Meadowlark Lemon was synonymous with the Harlem Globetrotters," Globetrotters CEO Kurt Schneider said in a statement. "He was an incredible entertainer and brought happiness and lifelong memories to millions around the world. We have lost a great ambassador of the game."
Lemon was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. He also received the John W. Bunn Award in 2003 for his outstanding lifetime contributions to basketball.
Lemon joined the Globetrotters in 1954 at age 22 and stayed with the traveling show until 1978, appearing in more than 16,000 games in 97 countries.
The Globetrotters plan to dedicate their 90th anniversary tour to Lemon and former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Marques Haynes, who died in May.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved Meadowlark Lemon. He was 83. #RIPMeadowlark," the Harlem Globetrotters wrote on Twitter.
Shaquille O'Neal tweeted: "The Great Meadowlark Lemon of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters dies at 83. Rest In Basketball Heaven Sir!"
Lemon is one of only five Globetrotters to have their numbers retired since the team was founded in Chicago in the 1920s.
Lemon appeared on several popular television programs and specials, including ABC's "Wide World of Sports," "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine." An animated version of Lemon also appeared on "The Harlem Globetrotters" cartoon series and on episodes of "Scooby Doo."
Lemon left the Globetrotters in 1978 over a contract dispute and formed his own traveling teams -- the Meadowlark Lemon's Bucketeers, the Shooting Stars and Meadowlark Lemon's Harlem All-Stars.
Lemon had seen the Globetrotters playing on newsreels in the 1950s and applied to join the all-black squad.
"When they got to the basketball court, they seemed to make that ball talk," Lemon said during his Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech in 2003. "I said, 'That's mine. This is for me.' I was a receiving a vision. I was receiving a dream in my heart."