Harlem Globetrotters icon Fred “Curly” Neal has died at 77 years old.
The Globetrotters confirmed that he died in his home outside of Houston early Thursday. His cause of death has not been confirmed.
A star with the Globetrotters during their heyday, Neal played in more than 6,000 games with the team from 1963-85.
Neal was one of the most beloved Globetrotters
His ball-handling displays, shooting touch and infectious smile were mainstays at Globetrotters games as they entertained fans around the world in basketball exhibitions.
Neal was born and raised in Greensboro, N.C. He played college ball at Johnson C. Smith, a CIAA school in Charlotte where he averaged 23.1 points per game. He picked up the nickname Curly due to his shaved head resembling that of “Three Stooges” star Curly Howard.
Fan favorite, icon in black community
Neal wrote a perspective piece for USA Today in 2016 about what it meant to him to play for the Globetrotters, who broke down racial barriers as one of the first all-black basketball teams in the 1920s.
“For the black community, the team was a special source of pride, even if it appeared as if we were the butt of the joke,” Neal wrote. “The great Wilt Chamberlain used to say, ‘When you were a young black kid in the '40s, you loved Joe Louis and the Harlem Globetrotters.’”
A fan favorite, Neal’s likeness was featured in multiple children’s cartoons including “Harlem Globetrotters,” “The Super Globetrotters” and “The New Scooby-Doo Movies.”
His No. 22 Globetrotters jersey was retired at Madison Square Garden in 2008. He was inducted to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame the same year.
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