Nearly 70 years have passed, but the memory of the big, orange bus pulling up to the Williams’ Minneapolis home is clear as ever to Marietta, widow of former Harlem Globetrotters player Bob Williams. “That bus seemed like it was half a block long.”
Turns out the team decided to give Bob a lift home after playing doubleheaders for several days in Canada. “I remember how tired they all were sitting on the couch, floor, and all over our living room,” said Marietta.
Little did Marietta know, one of those players—Meadowlark Lemon—would eventually become a household name, inspiring thousands of young players. Known as the “Clown Prince,” Meadowlark was not only a master of trick shots, but also served as the heart of the ballclub, spreading joy and laughter, playing over 16,000 games for audiences around the globe.
Bob had some notoriety of his own, too. He was the first Black player to join the Minneapolis Lakers in 1955, and one of only seven Black players in the league.
At 6-foot-7, Bob was a dominant force on the court, playing two seasons with the Lakers and the Globetrotters. But off the court, things weren’t always as simple. “There were still places he couldn’t go,” said Marietta. “It was 1955 after all, and many restaurants and hotels wouldn’t allow Bob to eat or stay with his teammates.”
One incident, according to Marietta, occurred at an exclusive restaurant in Indianapolis, where the chef and owner welcomed the team but pointed at Bob, saying the “colored boy” needed to eat in the kitchen.
Despite facing racism in sports, business, and even in their own neighborhood, the Williams dedicated their lives to serving youth in their community. They co-founded Fellowship of Christian Athletes for Minnesota, mentored and chaired the board at Hospitality House for Innercity Boys and Girls Club, started the Sabathani basketball team and co-founded the Twin Cities Camping Club—all while raising five children of their own.
So how did that visit end with the Globetrotters? Just like any other would at the Williams’ house—with a Southern-style dinner of roasted chicken, greens, peach cobbler and pound cake.
That orange bus drove away into the night refueled with love and carrying a well-fed basketball team ready to change the world.