ATLANTA – Fred “Curly” Neal – the Harlem Globetrotters icon and 1975 Johnson C. Smith University alum known worldwide for his trademark shaved head and charismatic smile – passed away this (Thursday) morning in his home outside of Houston at the age of 77.
“We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known,” said Globetrotters General Manager Jeff Munn. “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.”
JCSU President Clarence D. Armbrister expressed sadness at the loss of Neal, who was not only a talented basketball player but also a global goodwill ambassador. "Like millions of people around the world, I remember being in awe of Curly's skills on the basketball court and the joy I felt watching him and the other Globetrotters as they entertained us," Armbrister said. "His talents as a Harlem Globetrotter, and most importantly as a Golden Bull, will forever be remembered. On behalf of the entire JCSU family, I extend heartfelt condolences to Curly's family, friends and fans."
On Feb. 15, 2008, Neal became just the fifth Globetrotter in the team's illustrious history to have his jersey retired, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Marques Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon and Goose Tatum. Neal's famous number 22 was lifted to the rafters during a special ceremony at New York's Madison Square Garden. Since then, there have been a total of eight numbers retired.
Neal was part of one of the most extraordinary eras in the team's history, appearing on several popular television programs and specials, including “ABC's Wide World of Sports,” “CBS Sports Spectacular,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine,” “The Love Boat,” “The White Shadow” and “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan‘s Island.” He also appeared in numerous national TV commercials and was immortalized in animation on “The Harlem Globetrotters” cartoon series and on episodes of “Scooby Doo.”
After an outstanding career at James B. Dudley High School in his hometown of Greensboro, N.C., Neal starred at Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte, N.C., where he averaged over 23 points per game and led his team to the CIAA title his senior year. He was inducted into the CIAA Hall of Fame in 1986 and was a member of the 2008 class of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
Neal, who would have turned 78 on May 19, was also a recipient of the Harlem Globetrotters' prestigious “Legends” ring, presented to those who have made a major contribution to the success and the development of the Globetrotters organization. Each honoree exemplifies the Harlem Globetrotters’ humanitarian contributions and it’s the second highest honor a former player can receive outside of jersey retirement.
In the latter years of his life, Neal continued to make public and promotional appearances for the Globetrotters, bringing smiles to a new generation of fans. At this time, services are pending.
JCSU Sports Information contributed to this article.