Fred ‘Curly’ Neal, the ball magician who amused millions of people with the Harlem Globetrotters for nearly three decades, has passed away. He was 77 years old.
The Globetrotters reported that Neal passed away at his home outside Houston on Thursday morning.
“We lost one of the most genuine people the world has ever known,” Globetrotters general manager Jeff Munn said in a statement on Twitter. “Curly’s basketball skills were rarely unparalleled and his big heart and giant smile brought joy to families around the world.”
Neal played for the Globetrotters from 1963 to 1985. He played more than 6,000 games in 97 countries for the exhibition team, known for its combination of comedy and athletic ability. He became one of the five players on the team whose jersey has been removed.
The garment with the number 22 was unveiled during a special ceremony at Madison Square Garden in 2008.
Neil was a crowd favorite with his signature shaved head, infectious smile and ability to bounce the ball in circles around any rival. He was one of the key players in the most popular stage of the Globetrotters during the 70s and 80s. He made appearances on television shows and in specials such as “The Ed Sullivan Show”, “El Crucero del Amor” and “La Isla Gilligan’s. “
Neal appeared alongside the Globetrotters in various television commercials, “Scooby Doo” episodes and in his own cartoon series.
“It is difficult to express how much joy Curly Neal brought to my life when I was a child. Rest in legend, ”Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said on Twitter.
He was a high school basketball star in Greensboro, North Carolina and led Charlotte C. Smith University of Charlotte to the title of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, averaging 23 points per game in his senior year. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, in a generation that included coach Roy Williams.
Neal was also included in the Globetrotters’ circle of legends in 1993 and continued to make appearances as a goodwill ambassador.