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Harlem Globetrotter legend Fred ‘Curly’ Neal dies at age 77

Fred “Curly” Neal, the legendary Harlem Globetrotter ball-handler and guy draining logo shots before it became an NBA trend, has passed away at the age of 77, the team has confirmed.

Neal had been battling the effects of a stroke in recent years.

Neal had his jersey retired by the Globetrotters back in 2008, and it hangs in the rafters at Madison Square Garden. (The other four Globetrotters with their numbers retired are Wilt Chamberlain, Marques Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon, and Goose Tatum.)

In the 1970s and ‘80s, the Globetrotters — led by Lemon, Neal, and Tatum — were huge draws, both in arenas around the nation and on television. It’s difficult to overstate how popular they were. When I was in third or fourth grade, my youth basketball team went and saw them at a sold-out Forum in Los Angeles, the same building the Showtime Lakers were filling.

Neal’s ballhandling and showmanship influenced a generation.

Neal played for the Globetrotters from 1963 to 1985, competing in more than 6,000 games in 97 different countries. At that peak of popularity, the Globetrotters often appeared television shows and even had their own Saturday morning cartoon series (plus “guested” with Scooby-Doo and others).

“We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known,” current Globetrotters GM Jeff Munn said in a released statement. “Curly’s 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.”

Our thoughts are with the Neal family and his friends.