(Harlem Globetrotters site) --- 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.
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. 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. One of the truly magical dribblers and shooters in basketball history, Neal fittingly played for 22 seasons in the red, white and blue, wearing No. 22.
“We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known,” said Globetrotters General Manager Jeff Munn. “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.”
Back in the pre-Larry and Magic days of the NBA, the Harlem Globetrotters were probably the most popular and well-known hoops team in the world. A barnstorming exhibition team, they toured with, and always dummied, the Washington Generals in WWF-style theater that inspired one of the best Simpsons lines ever.
(Turns out, that degen Krusty would be vindicated.)
The Globetrotters were all about entertainment and sick ball skills. And nobody personfied that in the '70s and '80s quite like Curly, the face of the legendary squad. It's not a coincidence that the team's popularity soared when it added the slick ball-handler who appeared to have the rock on a string at times. The team was everywhere when I was a kid. There were Harlem Globetrotters lunch boxes, animated cartoons, crossover cartoon appearances on Scooby-Doo, and even a made-for-TV movie THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS ON GILLIGAN'S ISLAND.
Along with the Fonz, Big Foot vs. the $6M Man, and the Laff-A-Lympics, the Globetrotters were something every '70s kid remembers. Thankfully, they were more entertaining on the court than in 'toon form.
That was in large part due to the play and the sense of fun that Neal exuded. He was a great showman not to mention an unreal baller. In 2008, he became just the fifth Globetrotter to have his number (22) retired by the 94-year-old franchise.
Deepest sympathies to the friends and family of Curly, a legendary player on a legendary team.