Fred “Curly” Neal, who played for the Harlem Globetrotters for 22 years, has passed away at age 77.
Thursday on social media, the New York exhibition basketball team announced the heartbreaking news, and revealed that Neal died that morning in his home outside of Houston.
“We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known,” Globetrotters General Manager Jeff Munn said.
Munn continued, “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.”
Throughout his career, Neal played 6,000 games in 97 countries while wearing his No. 22 jersey.
“It was Curly’s magical ball-handling, shooting, charismatic smile and iconic bald head… that made them start to play and fall in love with the game,” the Globetrotters added.
Per USA Today, Neal previously played college basketball for Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina, where he earned All-Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association honors.
He became a “Globie” in 1963 until his retirement in 1985. The team later retired his No. 22 jersey in 2008.
Ironically, Neal got the nickname of “Curly” because of his bald head, reports The New York Times.
“Being a Globetrotter, especially during that time, was as much a responsibility as it was a job,” Neal told USA Today in 2016. “We weren’t just entertainers. I truly believe that we helped ease many of the tensions that pulled at the country. It didn’t matter if you were black, white or whatever — laughing and enjoying our games made those barriers disappear.”
He will be missed.