Curly Neal, Globetrotters’ Dazzling Dribbler, Dies at 77

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Fred “Curly” Neal, whose dribbling wizardry made him probably the most well-known members of the beloved Harlem Globetrotters touring basketball staff, died on Thursday at his home near Houston. He was 77.

The staff introduced the dying however gave no different particulars.

Nicknamed “Curly” upon becoming a member of the Globetrotters in a humorous nod to his shaved head, Neal performed in additional than 6,00zero exhibition video games for the Globetrotters from 1963 to 1985, principally in opposition to the Washington Generals, their hapless foils.

In probably the most extremely anticipated components of the Globetrotters’ routine, Neal would dribble everywhere in the courtroom, ceaselessly sliding on his knees, by no means dropping management of the ball irrespective of how near the hardwood he had lowered himself. Then he would bounce the ball by way of a flailing defender’s legs near the free-throw line and dribble in for an uncontested layup to complete off the move.

“Oh my gosh, he revolutionized ball handling,” Nancy Lieberman, who performed for the Generals in opposition to the Globetrotters in 1988, mentioned in a cellphone interview. “Everything you see Kyrie Irving doing and Steph Curry doing now, all of it started with the Trotters. The Trotters made dribbling a show.”

Neal’s trickery established him as one of many staff’s foremost stars, alongside the likes of Meadowlark Lemon and Hubert “Geese” Ausbie, and helped the Globetrotters’ touring present turn out to be a daily characteristic of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” in an period when the National Basketball Association didn’t have a strong nationwide tv presence because it does now.

At the peak of the Globetrotters’ reputation within the 1970s, with Neal’s supreme ball-handling expertise and long-distance capturing as prime sights, they impressed a number of animated TV sequence, together with “Scooby-Doo Meets the Harlem Globetrotters” in 1972.

They additionally carried out a few of their basketball methods on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” accompanied as at all times by the strains of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” their trademark track. And they performed themselves on tv exhibits like “The White Shadow” and “Love Boat” and in a made-for-television “Gilligan’s Island” film.

“His basketball skill was unrivaled by most, and his warm heart and huge smile brought joy to families worldwide,” Jeff Munn, the Globetrotters’ basic supervisor, mentioned in an announcement on Thursday. “He always made time for his many fans and inspired millions.”

Frederick Neal was born on May 19, 1942, in Greensboro, N.C., and performed collegiately at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, the place he averaged 23 factors per sport as a senior to earn All-Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association honors. Future N.B.A. stars resembling Lou Hudson and Al Attles had been highschool and school contemporaries, however Neal was not drafted by an N.B.A. staff and struggled to land a job within the execs.

“That’s what I wanted to do, really,” he informed The New York Times in 1983.

But a suggestion quickly materialized with the Globetrotters, and Neal finally succeeded Marques Haynes, a 1992 inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame, because the Globetrotters’ ball-handling sensation.

Neal and Haynes “taught me how to dribble,” Isiah Thomas, the previous All-Star guard who led the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back N.B.A. championships in 1989 and 1990, mentioned on Thursday on Twitter.

“I was blessed to be close with Curly and Marques Haynes,” Lieberman mentioned. “Curly learned from Marques and took it to a whole different level.”

The Globetrotters retired Neal’s No. 22 in 2008 in a ceremony at Madison Square Garden — an honor bestowed upon solely 4 different gamers within the staff’s historical past: Wilt Chamberlain (13), Reece “Goose” Tatum (50), Haynes (20) and Lemon (36). He continued to function a Globetrotters ambassador lengthy after he stopped taking part in.

Neal, although, recalled very humble beginnings to his Globetrotters profession in his 1983 interview with The Times, saying: “I got a questionnaire letter, as a free agent. I would have to pay my way to camp. The Globetrotters sent me a plane ticket and gave me room and board.”

Another problem, he mentioned, was studying easy methods to entertain followers as a part of a touring basketball troupe famend for throwing buckets of confetti — or water — on followers sitting courtside.

“I didn’t know anything about being funny,” Neal mentioned.

Information on his survivors was not instantly out there.

In an interview with bullz-eye.com in 2008, Neal revealed that he had really begun shaving his head at age 12 — lengthy earlier than he received his nickname.

“The kids in the neighborhood, we decided to do something mischievous,” Neal mentioned. “My mom didn’t like it at first. She said, ‘What happened to you?’ And I said, ‘I went to sleep in the barber’s chair.’”

Neal caught with that look all through his highschool and school profession. He mentioned it was Bobby Milton, the Globetrotters’ coach when Neal arrived, who determined, “We’re going to call you Curly.”