Harlem Globetrotter Basketball Legend, Fred “Curly” Neal Dies at 77

(Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

Fred “Curly” Neal – the Harlem Globetrotters icon known worldwide for his trademark shaved head, charismatic smile and crazy dribbling skills – passed away this morning in his home outside of Houston at the age of 77.

Curly delighting crowds for 22 years with his flashy dribbling and ball-handling skills that were like no other. His big, bright smile and shaved head earned him his nickname, a reference to the Three Stooges’ Curly Howard, and made him one of the most recognizable Globetrotters.

In the 1970s, an animated version of Neal starred with various other Globetrotters in the Hanna-Barbera animated cartoon Harlem Globetrotters as well as its spinoff, The Super Globetrotters. The animated Globetrotters also made three appearances in The New Scooby-Doo Movies. Neal himself appeared with Meadowlark Lemon, Marques Haynes, and his other fellow Globetrotters in a live-action Saturday morning TV show, The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine, in 1974–75.

He played on the Globetrotters from 1963 until 1985 and was a fan favorite. He would dribble through the other team, daring them to steal the ball and was a dead-on shooter. His number 22 was retired and hung in the rafters at Madison Square Garden in 2008.

Curly had two daughters, Rocurl (Raquel) and Laverne Neal, and six grandchildren, David, Dante, Jayden, Brandon, Deja and Hailey. Neal lived in Houston with his fiancée Linda Ware until his death.

As news of his death spread, many notable basketball legends chimed in to pay their respects on social media.

“His basketball skill was unrivaled by most, and his warm heart and huge smile brought joy to families worldwide.” – Harlem Globetrotters General Manager Jeff Munn

“Hard to express how much joy Curly Neal brought to my life growing up. RIP to a legend