Meadowlark Lemon was one of the finest and most decent people I’ve ever known.

Like most of my era, I remember, as a boy, my father taking me to see the “Clown Prince of Basketball” and the Harlem Globetrotters. However, it will be Meadowlark “The Man” that I was fortunate to get to know later in life and whom I will always remember.

Meadowlark Lemon was a man of faith who loved people, and believed in giving back.

Born in Lexington, South Carolina, Meadowlark and his family moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he grew up. After playing basketball at Florida A&M and a stint in the US Army, it was on to the Harlem Globetrotters.  Meadowlark quickly emerged as the most famous Globetrotter at a time when they could defeat almost any NBA team.

We think of Meadowlark for his on-court antics, but he was a great basketball player and an even greater person.

Speaking to inner-city youth at a Salvation Army event I was involved in a few years ago, Meadowlark told the kids that, “There’s no excuse in missing a free throw shot. It’s free. They’re giving it to you. Take it!”

Meadowlark knew what he was talking about. His lifetime free throw percentage of 97 percent is the best of anyone who has ever played the game.

Meadowlark had his own Christian ministry and it touched many. He prayed with President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office and he witnessed to and prayed with Alabama Governor George Wallace at his bedside.

I remember picking up Meadowlark at the airport once and trying to fit boxes and boxes of completely flat red, white, and blue basketballs in my car. I could hardly see out of the car, let alone reach the gears. He told me, “You’re going to need an air compressor to pump up all of these balls.”

Later on, Meadowlark spoke one Sunday night at our church. It was the biggest turnout ever for a Sunday night service. Afterwards, everyone wanted a signed red, white, and blue basketball. I sure was glad a buddy of mine and I had taken Meadowlark’s advice and gotten an air compressor!

Meadowlark Lemon loved his country and the U.S. military. In fact, at this same time last year, he was overseas entertaining the troops and visiting the sick and wounded in military hospitals.

I spoke with him both before and after the trip. He was so excited to be with military personnel over the holidays.

Meadowlark’s ministry was one of joy, and he was one of the most joyful people I’ve ever known.

He once told me, “Happiness is a wimp compared to joy.”

Meadowlark brought joy to millions and was one of the sports world’s greatest role models.

Van D. Hipp, Jr. is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army.  He is the author of the newly released book, "The New Terrorism:  How to Fight It and Defeat It."  All of the author's proceeds go to the National Guard Educational Foundation to fund scholarships for children of fallen Guardsmen.  www.thenewterrorism.com   Follow him on  Twitter @VanHipp