The NBA wasn’t ready for Minden’s Lou Dunbar, but the world loved him

By NICO VAN THYN

 Written for the Louisiana Sports Writers Association

From the Harlem Globetrotters’ website…

 Throughout his illustrious career, fans across the world adored “Sweet Lou” Dunbar’s on-court comedy routines and shared his love of the game. Now he is passing that love and considerable knowledge on to a new generation of Globetrotters as a coach.

 Some 50 years ago, Louis Dunbar was the “Magic Man” of Louisiana basketball.

Now he’s about to become officially legendary in Louisiana. Minden’s own will be enshrined in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame June 24-26 in Natchitoches. For information and to participate, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.

He was an Earvin Johnson-type player — the big (6-foot-9) point guard who could play forward or even center when needed — years before we’d heard of “Magic.” He could leap, shoot from distance, dunk easily and score inside, and he was a willing ballhandler and passer.  

Dunbar was a high school superstar, the state’s best player and top college recruit in his senior year at old Webster High in Minden, and a college All-American at the University of Houston.

He played for two legendary coaches: Ozias Johnson at Webster (his teams won nearly 950 times over three decades) and Guy Lewis at Houston (592 college victories, 27 consecutive winning seasons).

Dunbar’s professional career had a surprising twist, but it has lasted more than 40 years.

He never played in the NBA, as many envisioned he would, but he became a 27-season star for the world’s most famous basketball team.

One of the most revered players in Globetrotter history, “Sweet Lou” has traveled three times around the world, playing in front of more than 10 million people on six continents.”

He’s still with them in the entertainment/basketball business, for the past dozen years as a coach and director of player personnel.

A few pounds heavier than the graceful, lithe young man he was once, he’s still dancing on the sidelines and making scenes with officials and players. In a bittersweet twist, he coached the ‘Trotters in appearances a few miles from Minden in Bossier City, then in Lafayette and New Orleans, last March before the pandemic brought that tour, and nearly everything else, to a halt. The team is about to restart activities as Dunbar waits at home in the Houston area.

He has interacted with fans of all types, royalty, presidents, prime ministers, and, in Rome, he stood alongside Pope John Paul II when the team named him an honorary Globetrotter on Nov. 29, 2000.

For two decades “Sweet Lou” played the showman, the “clown prince” — the garrulous, loud, joking center of attention, ballhandler extraordinaire (with his huge hands and wingspan), and chief protagonist of ‘Trotters mischief.

It was the position made most famous by Goose Tatum and by Dunbar’s mentor and role model, Meadowlark Lemon.

If you’ve seen him in person or on video or film, you know that Sweet Lou’s laugh and sense of fun were as big as his on-court ability.

Add in an enormous hairdo in his college years and beyond — “the biggest ‘fro in all of creation,” he said years later — and he was at least a 7-footer.  

What also stood out was that he was engaging, charismatic and talented.

(About his size: He much resembles his father, also named Louis, who was a cannot-miss-him, imposing 6-foot-10 deputy sheriff, the first African American to serve in that capacity in Webster Parish.)

Read more on Minden’s Hall of Famer in Thursday’s WPJ.


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