"Who likes a loser?"
It is difficult to argue with the dogmatic Globetrotter way of things. While there is a tendency to dismiss them as old hat, they are more successful, more popular than in all their 46 years. Saperstein's estate sold the operation in 1967 for $3,710,000, a startling price at the time but a bargain in hindsight. The buyers were three young Chicago businessmen—Potter Palmer, George Gillett and John O'Neil. For the Globies, they went public with Globetrotter Communications Inc. and diversified by adding such things as radio stations and sporting goods. In 1972 the corporation made a profit of $1,800,000, of which $875,000 was earned by the Globies.
The Globetrotters are involved in marketing some 35 products, and they pick up pin money by handling sales of their theme song, Brother Bones' rendition of Sweet Georgia Brown. They play before two million fans a year, at 91% of capacity. With Haynes' Magicians in mothballs, the Globetrotters have the whole field to themselves, except for a few vagabond station-wagon outfits that hustle games against local disc jockeys in high school gyms.
"Anyway, let's face it, the name—Harlem Globetrotters—is more important than any particular player out there," says Stan Greeson, the 44-year-old president of the club, who formerly managed such entertainers as Peter Nero and Soupy Sales. "What we do is totally unique. We're practically the only G-rat-ed entertainment left in town. Even the circus has skimpily clad girls now."
Even the Globetrotters have skimpily clad girls now. Leastwise, the busty Spanish juggler who toured with the team this summer looked like a girl; certainly the players would come out of their locker room early to see her. But there is a time for everything. In the 1940s, when the Globetrotters were the greatest team in the world, it was their clowning that distinguished them.
Inman Jackson, who died only a few months ago, first started the funny stuff, but it was the late Goose Tatum who was the premier showman when the team came to national prominence right after the war. Haynes left in 1953 and Tatum in 1955 to strike out against Saperstein with their Fabulous Magicians, and there was an interregnum of three years before Meadowlark assumed the Clown Prince mantle.
Sam Wheeler, who has only the nubs of three fingers, was first given a shot at the showman's role, and then Showboat Hall had his chance. As inconsistent as he is inspired, Showboat still works the second unit along with Hubie (Geese) Ausbie, but Lemon is unquestionably top banana. Meadowlark makes about $85,000 a year, and when the two units consolidate for the summer tour Lemon is assigned the pivot as showman for three quarters, Ausbie for one.
At 35, Geese is five years Lemon's junior, and he is a much more spontaneous comedian, though hampered by the fact that he has uncommonly small hands for a man 6'5". Meadowlark, though, is at the height of his comic powers, and even Haynes rates him nearly on a par with Goose Tatum. Lemon's accomplishment is founded in his organization. Goose was naturally Goose, as Geese is Geese, but Meadowlark is a contrived character.
Lemon was frankly ambitious to succeed Tatum. He practiced ball handling in hotel rooms, laid awake thinking up new routines—"reems" in Globetrotter argot—and even practiced mugging in front of mirrors. Then he coordinated the whole show around him. The more one sees it, the more it is appreciated not so much as a comic exposition but as a precision drill.
Like many clowns, Lemon is not personally funny, although he gives the distinct impression that he is purposely casting himself as more serious than he really is off the court. He is only 6'2"—people expect him to be 6'8"—and he does not possess a rubber face, merely a mournful one with deep eye. But he is a consummate professional, utterly devoted to his craft.