THE Harlem Globetrotters barnstorm at the fringes of the serious basketball world, so their newest headliner may have escaped notice. But his name should ring a bell: Meadowlark Lemon.
After a 13-year absence, the sport's clown prince is momentarily back, doing all the old gags, sometimes for the children of baby boomers who remember him from their childhood.
"Why come back?" was an obvious question for Lemon during a recent promotional visit here.
"It was time to come back," he says, seated in a downtown hotel lobby, wearing a navy blazer and cream-colored turtleneck. "I'd been talking to the Globetrotters for about three years; it just took some time to get together."
There was a mutual interest in the reunion, which began in January when the team signed Lemon to complete the balance of the 1993 domestic tour. The Globetrotters, whose act can look static, needed a spark, a marquee name. Lemon, meanwhile, realizes the outreach the team could afford him to spread "the word."
Lemon became a minister in 1986 and operates Meadowlark Ministries in Scottsdale, Ariz. He also runs Camp Meadowlark, which steers children away from substance abuse.
By playing for the Globetrotters, he says, "I can reach people who probably wouldn't go to church. I can let them see my walk, my talk, my actions."
He mounts the pulpit, too, and is slated to preach the day after the `Trotters complete their national tour tomorrow in Savannah, Ga. Lemon will not join the international tour.
Needless to say, Lemon has logged his share of travel and basketball miles, having played in more than 7,500 games from Algeria to Zimbabwe. He first joined the team in 1957, fresh out of high school in Wilmington, N.C. It was a dream come true for a player who had been captivated by the Globetrotters from seeing them in movie theater newsreels.
Lemon quit in 1979. During his mini-comeback he has spelled resident funny man Sweet Lou Dunbar during the second quarter, calling up his trademark no-look wraparound passes, half-court hook shots, and other comic antics.
Heeding Biblical advice, he claims to have gotten "more wisdom ... about life, about people, and things don't worry me the way they did in the past."