Becomes 'clown Prince' Of Basketball
Lemon left the Army after two years and was invited to join the Kansas City All-Stars, one of the opposition teams that toured with the Globetrotters. Within time, Lemon worked his way to the other side, and by 1955, was a bona fide Globetrotter.
With his zany, on-court persona, the six-foot-three Lemon soon established himself as the Globetrotters' most prolific court jester, earning the title "Clown Prince of Basketball." By the 1958-59 season, Lemon was the lead clown and held that position for the next 20 years. The team's lead clown oversees the game by managing the pace, along with the comedy routines.
Lemon's injury act was one of the crowd's favorites. The act began with Lemon dropping to the floor "in pain" after just the slightest contact with an opponent. When Wilt Chamberlain was on the team, he'd seize Lemon like a rag doll and cart him off the court, ball in hand. That's when Lemon would substitute a new ball-one with an elastic string. Lemon would step to the free-throw line and build the suspense by bouncing the ball. Naturally, when he shot the ball, it would soar upward, then snap back like a boomerang. Lemon would try to get rid of the ball by tossing it at the referee, but of course, it came right back. When the referee told Lemon to get rid of the ball, he'd return with a weighted ball that wobbled around. Or he'd hand the referee a ball so
full of holes it would deflate almost immediately. Lemon was a born actor, and the court became his stage. Game after game, year after year, the crowds laughed over this routine.
Over the years, Lemon refined his skills along with his comedy. Once, when the opposing team guarded Lemon so heavily he couldn't shoot, he shot the ball underhanded through the opponent's legs to score. The move garnered immediate laughs and was added to the routine. Another trademark of Lemon's was his non-stop yakking. Throughout the game, he talked in a highpitched voice that had even the fans in the upper seats laughing.
While his antics held a crowd's attention, Lemon's skills awed them. Game after game, Lemon amazed crowds with his uncanny ability to sink hook shots. He'd walk away from the basket, not even looking, and flip the ball over his head for two points. In his autobiography, A View from Above, Wilt Chamberlain writes that he would be happy to make that shot just once. "You can't practice those things," he wrote. "How do you practice a once-ina-lifetime shot, even though you're asked to make it every night? It's like practicing drowning."
Besides his antics and ball-handling skills, Lemon's other secret weapon was his wide smile. The more he smiled, the more the crowd laughed, and the laughter sustained him. "I couldn't believe the applause, the laughter. It was almost physical, lifting me, inspiring me, warming me," Lemon noted in his autobiography. "I couldn't get enough of it. Every night I could hardly wait to charge from the locker room into the gym to get another fix of crowd reaction."
Lemon's antics made him so popular that a 1978 nationwide poll named him the fourth most popular personality in the United States, behind John Wayne, Alan Alda, and Bob Hope.
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