One of The Harlem Globetrotters’ most famous ballers, Fred “Curly” Neal, has died at his home near Houston. He was 77.
Neal, whose dribbling could make you dizzy on the basketball court, died on Thursday, according to the team. No further details were provided.
Neal was comically nicknamed “Curly” by team members because he had no hair and wore his head shaven. He played in more than 6,000 exhibition games from 1963 to 1985, according to The New York Times.
His signature move, which became a popular part of the Globetrotters’ routine, would be when Neal dribbled all up and down the court, sliding on his knees and dribbling in between defender’s legs, while never losing control of his handles.
“Oh my gosh, he revolutionized ball handling,” Nancy Lieberman, who played for the Washington Generals against the Globetrotters in 1988, told The New York Times. “Everything you see Kyrie Irving doing and Steph Curry doing now, all of it started with the Trotters. The Trotters made dribbling a show.”
Neal helped the Globetrotters reach national and international fame.
The team was regularly featured on ABC’s Wide World of Sports and had guest appearances on other television shows— from two episodes in the animated Scooby Doo to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, where they showed off their basketball mastery to the backdrop of their trademark song, “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
“His basketball skill was unrivaled by most, and his warm heart and huge smile brought joy to families worldwide,” Jeff Munn, the Globetrotters’ general manager, released in a statement after Neal passed. “He always made time for his many fans and inspired millions.”
Neal, of Greensboro, N.C., was born on May 19, 1942. He played college ball at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, where he delivered an average of 23 points per game as a senior and earned All-Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association honors, according to The Times. Despite his on the court success, Neal was never drafted by an N.B.A. team, although that was his dream.
“That’s what I wanted to do, really,” he told The New York Times in 1983.
Rest in peace, Curly. You were one of our favorites.