Fred “Curly” Neal, the popular retired Harlem Globetrotter known for his dribbling fancies and outrageous personality, died Thursday at his home just outside Houston. He was 77 years old.
His university, Johnson C. Smith, announced the news on Twitter about the man known as “Curly” because of his shaved head that looked like Curly Howard of the “Three Stooges”. He is said to be suffering from health problems, but his death is not linked to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We have lost one of the most authentic human beings the world has ever known,” said Globetrotters chief executive Jeff Munn in a team statement. “His basketball talent was second to none, and his warm heart and huge smile delighted families around the world. It has always taken time for its many fans and has inspired millions of people. ”
Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, Neal was a prominent college basketball player with Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte, winning all the honors of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. As an elder, he averaged over 23 points per game and led Johnson C. Smith to the CIAA crown.
After graduating from college, he joined the Globetrotters in 1963 and remained on the team, known for entertaining fans with impressive low hits and dribbles, for more than two decades. In 22 years, he has played more than 6,000 games in 97 countries. In 1985 he retired, and in 2008 his number 22 was retired by the Globetrotters at Madison Square Garden, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Marques Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon and Goose Tatum. That same year, he was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
“For those who say that the game has evolved? I say that what is old is new! The Isiah Thomas Hall of Fame tweeted after hearing the news of Neal’s death. “Remote shooting and dribbling are back !! #CurlyNeal and #MarcusHaynes taught me to dribble. ”
Even after his retirement, Neal still made appearances with the Globetrotters. He was a key part of their action, as their primary guard who would do marvelous dribbling skills and match his elite basketball skills with a warm personality and a constant smile. At its peak, the team was very popular, appearing on “Wide World of Sports ABC”, “CBS Sports Spectacular”, “The Ed Sullivan Show”, “The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine”, “The Love Boat”, “The White Shadow “and” The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island “.
One of the first all-black teams in the 1920s, the Globetrotters helped break down social barriers, which was one of the reasons why Neal was so proud to be part of the organization.
“Being a Globetrotter, especially during this period, was as much a responsibility as a job,” he wrote in an opinion piece for USA Today Sports in 2016. “We weren’t just artists. I truly believe that we have helped to ease many of the tensions that have drawn the country. It doesn’t matter if you are black, white or whatever – laughing and enjoying our games has removed these barriers.
“For the black community, the team was a particular source of pride, even if it seemed like we were the target of the joke. The great Wilt Chamberlain said, “When you were a young black man in the 1940s, you loved Joe Louis and the Harlem Globetrotters.” ”
Neal is survived by his fiancee, Linda Ware, two daughters and six grandchildren. The funeral arrangements were not announced immediately.