How Lou Dunbar became “Sweet,” on the road to the Hall of Fame

By NICO VAN THYN

 Written for the Louisiana Sports Writers Association

Lou Dunbar wasn’t known as “Sweet” while he was raised in Minden, became the state’s best basketball player while at Webster High School, or when he starred from 1973-75 for the University of Houston Cougars.

But after a pair of pathways to the NBA fizzled, a door opened that carried Dunbar to the “Sweet” life as the clown prince of the internationally-beloved Harlem Globetrotters.

His No. 41 jersey is one of only eight ever retired by the ‘Trotters. Since he hung it up, he’s been working in management and coaching one of their four traveling teams, living in Houston in between tours. The team is currently training to resume entertaining kids 8 to 80 all over the world in the near future.

But first, owing primarily to the fame he’s accumulated as a basketball showman, but with his significant competitive hoops credentials as a complement, he’s about to enter the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

Induction activities begin Thursday in Natchitoches, move to Shreveport Friday for the BOM Bowling Bash at All-Star Lanes at midday, then settle in Louisiana’s most historic town Friday night for a free riverbank concert and a Saturday slate brimming with events.

For participation opportunities and more info, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.

While playing point guard – standing 6-foot-9 — at UH, Dunbar made all the area all-star teams in 1973-75 and was a third-team All-American selection in ’75. The Philadelphia 76ers then made him a fourth-round NBA Draft pick (59th overall).

But Lou never reported to camp; he felt the team never made him a solid contract offer. So he headed to Switzerland to play pro ball for two years (helping his team to one national title).

He returned to Houston and was working at a jewelry store when he got another NBA shot — a Los Angeles summer-league tryout with the Rockets.

Again, it did not take. But a Globetrotters’ scout saw what he liked, made an offer … and it was showtime.

“I just don’t think the NBA was ready for that [the big point guard],” Dunbar said, looking back in a 1992 Shreveport Times story by John James Marshall before a ‘Trotters appearance in Shreveport. “People my size were supposed to play inside. I was a fluke. Now if I had come along a little later …”

In that story, Marshall wrote: The one thing that Dunbar has always had is the personality. That smile. That chatter. “It was probably meant for me,” he says [of his ‘Trotters’ role]. “Performing has always come natural.”

Not too long into his Globetrotters career, his charisma made him an understudy to legendary Meadowlark Lemon, whose playing days were nearing an end. Dunbar had already been tabbed “Sweet Lou” in ‘Trotters’ parlance, something that didn’t surprise his college coach.

“He’s absolutely the greatest kid,” UH’s Guy Lewis said in 1973. “He keeps our team loose. I’m sure he’s the most popular guy on our team. He’s one of the great guys to coach I’ve had and not just because of his ability.”

Sweet Lou, before the Globetrotters’ No. 41 jersey-retirement  ceremony in 2019 in Houston, said he was proud that “my family gets a chance to see it here, and I hope I don’t cry.”

But he did. Just as he remembers crying after Webster High’s only loss in his senior season.

Consider this — he hasn’t had to cry after a Globetrotters’ game. In case you have not heard or noticed, the ‘Trotters never lose.

And they never fail to leave fans entertained. 

“I just want people to remember that when they came to see Lou Dunbar play the game,” he said in that 1992 homecoming, “they left there with a smile on their face.”


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