Fred “Curly” Neal was synonymous with the Harlem Globetrotters, having played over 6,000 games for the Globies across 22 seasons from 1963-1985. On Thursday, the team announced that Neal, who had been dealing with complications from a stroke in recent years, died at his home in Houston at the age of 77.
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. pic.twitter.com/JdZa6zTvZU
— Harlem Globetrotters (@Globies) March 26, 2020
Globetrotter legend Fred "Curly" Neal passed away last night, former Globetrotters owner Mannie Jackson told @TheUndefeated. Jackson said Neal has been fighting a stroke in recent years.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) March 26, 2020
“We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known,” Globetrotters general manager Jeff Munn said in a statement, via ESPN. “Curly’s basketball skill was unrivaled by most, and his warm heart and huge smile brought joy to families worldwide.”
Prior to joining the Globetrotters, Neal played at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, where he was an All-CIAA team member having averaged 23 points per game and leading his team to a CIAA championship.
Neal is one of only five members of the Globetrotters to have his number retired at a ceremony in 2008 at Madison Square Garden, as the number 22 joined those of Wilt Chamberlain, Meadowlark Lemon, Marques Haynes, and Goose Tatum. His legacy with the Globetrotters is one of expanding the global reach of the game and the franchise, having played games in an incredible 97 countries around the world, and even after retiring he remained with the team, making appearances as an “Ambassador of Goodwill.”