One month from today, Meadowlark Lemon will turn 81 years old. On Sunday, the former Harlem Globetrotter looked less an octogenarian and more the spry prankster who began entertaining sold-out arenas just two years out of high school.
Lemon was one of six members of the Harlem Comedy All-Stars taking on a roster of 14 Local 1157 Minot firefighters in front of nearly 5,000 fans at the Minot State University Dome. Much of the money raised will go toward charities of the 1157 union.
Lemon’s microphone wasn’t working, but he didn’t seem to need it. Between the fancy passing and half-court shots in warmups, the All-Stars had the arena in a mixture of astonishment and laughter before the game even started.
“He’s just so funny in all his comments that he makes and what he does,” said Burlington’s Marianne Berard, who brought her four children ranging from ages 4 through 13. “He’s just a laughable guy, I guess.”
The laughs started when Lemon chided public address announcer Scott Kittell for announcing the other Comedy All-Stars first. Lemon made a point to tease just about every person he came across.
In the first half of the Comedy All-Stars’ 78-53 win, Lemon wandered around the floor and caught many fans off guard, including Minot 8-year-old Owen Iverson. Lemon saw the youngster returning to his seat with a container of nachos, took the snack and proceeded to eat a few as the game continued.
“You got some good people up here, wonderful people,” Lemon said. “Bill Cosby told me I’ll do this as long as the ball is round.”
Lemon played with the Globetrotters for 24 seasons before leaving the team in 1979 to start a similar squad known as the Bucketeers. He started the Harlem All-Stars in 1988 and returned to the Globetrotters for 50 games in 1994.
“It’s an honor to play with him,” Minot firefighter Austin Burns, 22, said. “He’s a legend and I’ve never met him personally until now. It’s pretty cool. The crowd’s really into him and it’s a fun time, a fun atmosphere for the kids. I’m really enjoying it.”
Burns was preparing to guard Lemon early in the game and the 6-foot-3 entertainer yelled, “Don’t touch me!”
Firefighter Jake Lentz, 26, was also picked on. Lentz hit two consecutive 3-pointers before Lemon stopped the game, grabbed Lentz’s hand and skipped with him back to shoot a few more times. After each shot, Lentz dutifully made his way back on defense, but Lemon kept the pressure on and motioned his opponent back to the front court for another shot.
“It’s just a good time,” Lentz said. “He’s a funny guy. We definitely weren’t expecting this many (people), but it’s a great turnout. It’s gonna go all for charity, which is good for us.”
Paul Laskowski, the president of the Local 1157 firefighters, wanted to host the Comedy All-Stars last year, but had to push the date back with the city still recovering from the 2011 Souris River flood. Laskowski was expecting about 1,500 fans. Nearly 2,000 tickets were given away to corporate sponsors and the less fortunate, according to Los Angeles-based event promoter Gary Greene.
“We never thought we’d get this much of a turnout, so this is fantastic,” Laskowski said. “We wanted to come see something hopefully we’ll do every year.”
Greene declined to say what the Comedy All-Stars charge per appearance. Laskowski expects to have a figure of total money raised for the 1157 within 90 days.