Fred “Curly” Neal of the Harlem Globetrotters passed away on Thursday, March 26, at his home in Houston, Texas, at age 77. A cause of death has yet to be revealed.
“We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known,” said Jeff Munn, the Globetrotters’ general manager. “His basketball skill was unrivaled by most, and his warm heart and huge smile brought joy to families worldwide. He always made time for his many fans and inspired millions.”
Others reacted to Neal’s death as well, people like retired hoop star Isaiah Thomas, who said Neal was a major influence on him.
“For those who say the game has evolved? I say what’s old is new again!” wrote Thomas on Thursday. “Distance Shot making and dribbling is back!! #CurlyNeal and #MarcusHaynes taught me how to dribble #Globetrotters.”
Known for his amazing dribbling skills, which often included sliding on his knees while still handling the ball, Neal played in over 6,000 games in nearly 100 countries with the Globetrotters.
He was with the team from 1963 to 1985, appearing on TV shows like “The White Shadow,” “The Love Boat,” and the animated series “Scooby-Doo.”
In 1993 Neal received the Globetrotters’ “Legends” ring for contributing to the overall success of the team’s organization. His No. 22 was retired in 2008, along with other Globetrotter legends like Meadowlark Lemon, Wilt Chamberlain and Marques Haynes.
Before joining the Globetrotters, Neal, who was born in North Carolina, played for Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
“Between 1963 and 1985 before the internet and cable television really existed — it was Curly Neal and the Harlem Globetrotters who first introduced the sport of basketball to millions of people around the world for the first time,” the Globetrotters tweeted on Thursday.
“It was Curly’s magical ball-handling, shooting, charismatic smile and iconic bald head, in more than 6,000 games in 97 countries, that made them start to play and fall in love with the game,” the team added.