Fred “Curly” Neal has passed away. The beloved Harlem Globetrotter legend was 77-years old. Globetrotters GM Jeff Munn confirmed the news. A cause of death has not been revealed. Curly is arguably the most famous of the Globetrotters after playing in over 6,000 games throughout his time with the basketball team. He started in 1963 and ended his career in 1985, playing in 97 different countries and spreading joy to the world. In addition to his skills on the court, Curly was also featured on episodes of Scooby-Doo and Gilligan’s Island, along with the various Globetrotter shows.
Curley Boo Johnson was one of the first to announce Fred “Curly” Neal’s passing on social media. Johnson started with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1988, a few years after Curly retired. He says, “Last night the World lost a true ambassador of the game of basketball and outside of Muhammad Ali one of the most recognizable faces on the Planet! Rest In Peace my Brother…” Globetrotters GM Jeff Munn released a statement, which you can read below.
“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.”
Fred Neal became Curly when he first shaved his head. His nickname is a reference to the Three Stooges‘ Curly Howard, and it made him one of the most recognizable Harlem Globetrotters. He was born in Greensboro, North Carolina on May 19th, 1942 and attended Greensboro-Dudley High School. After high school, Curly attended Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. He played basketball there and averaged 23.1 points a game and was named All-CIAA guard.
After college, Fred “Curly” Neal started playing with the Harlem Globe Trotters. As for never playing in the NBA, Curly never really gave it much thought after getting an invitation to join the Globetrotters. “I would have made it easy (in the NBA). Being a professional basketball player, I would have made it either way,” he said. “But I thank the Globetrotters, because I played for them for 22 years and I would have never played that long in the NBA.” Curly always had a smile on his face and was trying to get the world-famous basketball team back into popular culture as a goodwill ambassador.
Fred “Curly” Neal’s number 22 was retired on February 15th, 2008 in a special ceremony at Madison Square Garden as part of “Curly Neal Weekend.” He is only the fifth Globetrotter to receive such an honor. He was also inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame that same year. However, even non-sports fans know Curly for helping out the gang in the Scooby-Doo cartoons, The New Scooby-Doo Movies. Hanna-Barbera even created animated cartoon Harlem Globetrotters and its spinoff, The Super Globetrotters. TMZ was the first to report the death of Curly Neal.