Focus on Sports / Focus on Sports via Getty Images
Fred “Curly” Neal, the star of the Harlem Globetrotters, who played more than 6,000 games and 22 seasons, died at the age of 77. The team remembers him as “one of the really magical dribblers and shooters in basketball history”.
The globetrotters said in a statement that Neal, who played with the team from 1963 to 1985, died at home in Houston on Thursday morning.
“We lost one of the most genuine people the world has ever known,” said Jeff Munn, general manager of Globetrotters.
The team notes that Neal and the team played before the advent of cable television and traveled so far that they introduced large numbers of people to professional basketball for the first time. “It was Curly’s magical ball handling, shooting, charismatic smile and iconic baldness in more than 6,000 games in 97 countries that made her play and fall in love with the game,” said the Globetrotters.
Neal made it look easy, literally circles to dribble an opposing team. Take a look at him in action, including several stunning baskets from about half a pitch:
The Globetrotters was founded in the 1920s as one of the first purely black basketball teams. In a post published in USA Today in 2016, Neal said the team played an important role in promoting racist progress in the United States.
“The Harlem Globetrotters have been and continue to be at the forefront of removing racial barriers in this country,” he said. “Even if we weren’t greeted in restaurants and hotels, we were always greeted on the square in front of people who wanted to have a good time.”
Neal said that, especially in the beginning, “being a part of the team was as much a responsibility as a job. We weren’t just entertainers.”
He was from Greensboro, NC, and was an outstanding college basketball player at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. In 2008 he was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. Neal is one of eight Globetrotters players who have ever withdrawn their jersey numbers, accompanied by legends like Wilt Chamberlain and Meadowlark Lemon.
After retiring, he stayed with the Globetrotters and continued to make public appearances and advertisements for the team.
Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, said it was “hard to express how much joy Curly Neal brought to my life when I was growing up.”
“The basketball community has lost a legend” NBA alumni said.