Fred ‘Curly’ Neal: Harlem Globetrotters legend dies at 77

Fred 'Curly' Neal, former Harlem Globetrotters player
Harlem Globetrotters legend Fred ‘Curly’ Neal dies at 77. Pic credit: WACH FOX/YouTube

Harlem Globetrotters legend Fred “Curly” Neal has died at the age of 77.

Neal passed away Thursday morning (March 26) at his home outside of Houston, according to a statement posted on the Harlem Globetrotters’ official Twitter page.

The statement described Neal as the Harlem Globetrotters icon known for his “trademark shaved head” and “charismatic smile.”

“Fred ‘Curly’ Neal – the Harlem Globetrotters icon known worldwide for his trademark shaved head and charismatic smile – passed away this morning in his home outside of Houston at the age of 77.”

Globetrotters general manager Jeff Munn also confirmed Neal’s death in a statement released by the team.

“We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known. “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.”

The news of Neal’s death comes soon after the death of the former NBA commissioner, David Stern.

In January, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant also died tragically in a helicopter crash in the Calabasas area of California.

Fred “Curly” Neal bio

Fred “Curly” Neal was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, on May 19, 1942, according to his bio on the Harlem Globetrotters’ website.

He played basketball at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, averaging more than 23 points per game. He led his team to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) title in his senior year and was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame for the 2008 class.

Neal joined the Globies in 1963 and played for the team for 22 seasons, before retiring in 1985. He was one of the best-known members of the team with his No. 22 jersey, and was noted for his expert ball-handling and dribbling skills.

He played more than 6,000 games in 97 countries for the Globies. In February 2008, the team officially retired his No. 22 jersey at a ceremony at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

He was one of only five Harlem Globetrotter players to be so honored. The other four players were Wilt Chamberlain, Marques Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon, and Goose Tatum, according to the Globies website.

He appeared in several popular TV shows, including ABC’s Wide World of Sports, The Ed Sullivan Show, and CBS Sports Spectacular.

He also appeared on The Love Boat, The White Shadow, on TV specials, such as The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan‘s Island, The Harlem Globetrotters animation series, and Scooby-Doo.

His nickname “Curly” was an ironic reference to his shaved head.

Tributes pour in on Twitter

Basketball fans started posting tributes to the Harlem Globetrotters legend after news of his death broke on Thursday.

Among former Harlem Globetrotters team members who paid tribute was his friend, Curley “Boo” Johnson.

As of this report, services for Neal are pending, per the Globetrotters website.

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