Harlem Globetrotters Legend Fred 'Curly' Neal Dies at Age 77

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2020

Basketball legend Curly Neal speaks during a ceremony as his No. 22 is retired by the world renowned Harlem Globetrotters at Madison Square Garden, Friday, Feb. 15, 2008  in New York.  (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Harlem Globetrotters legend Fred "Curly" Neal died Thursday. Mannie Jackson, who once owned the Globetrotters, confirmed Neal's death to The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears.

He was 77.

According to the team's official website, Neal made more than 6,000 appearances across the country from 1963-85. The Globetrotters retired his No. 22 jersey in 2008, and he was the fifth person at the time to receive the honor.

TMZ Sports provided a statement from Globetrotters general manager Jeff Munn: "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."

Many sportswriters reflected on watching Neal:

Mike Waters @MikeWatersSYR

Remember copying all of Curly's moves, including the slide across the court on the knee pads to get past a group of defenders. RIP Curly Neal https://t.co/spUa8tDg0R

Bill Rabinowitz @brdispatch

I'm seeing that Curly Neal of the Harlem Globetrotters has died at 77. I remember as a kid being blown away by his dribbling wizardry. I had no idea anyone could have the ball on a string like that. He and Meadowlark Lemon were just amazing to watch. Such fond memories. #RIP.

Marc Stein @TheSteinLine

If you grew up in the '70s or '80s and you loved this game ... at some point you dreamed of dribbling a basketball like Curly Neal of the Harlem @Globies. #RIP to a giant of the game Brief highlight reel here: https://t.co/miL5nHZjaB https://t.co/nIxqwrLB6H

Mark Kiszla @markkiszla

RIP, Curly Neal. Spent my Little League years in a little West Virginia town. And the biggest sports star to ever play in that little town while I was there? Curly Neal. (Sorry, Meadowlark.)

Neal penned a February 2016 op-ed for USA Today in which he argued the Globetrotters left a legacy that extended beyond the court:

"The Harlem Globetrotters have been — and will continue to be — at the forefront of breaking down racial barriers in this country. Whether it's playing in front of another packed house at Madison Square Garden or brightening the days of the amazing people of Flint, Mich., during their ongoing water crisis, the Globetrotters have been there.

"Even if we once weren't welcomed in restaurants and hotels, we have always been welcomed on the court, in front of people who wanted to have a good time."

Jackson told Spears that Neal had been "fighting a stroke in recent years."