Fred “Curly” Neal, whose dribbling wizardry made him one of the vital well-known members of the beloved Harlem Globetrotters touring basketball crew, died on Thursday at his house close to Houston. He was 77.
The crew 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 6,000 exhibition video games for the Globetrotters from 1963 to 1985, largely in opposition to the Washington Generals, their hapless foils.
In one of the vital extremely anticipated components of the Globetrotters’ routine, Neal would dribble everywhere in the court docket, incessantly sliding on his knees, by no means shedding management of the ball regardless of how near the hardwood he had lowered himself. Then he would bounce the ball by a flailing defender’s legs close to the free-throw line and dribble in for an uncontested layup to complete off the transfer.
“Oh my gosh, he revolutionized ball dealing with,” Nancy Lieberman, who performed for the Generals in opposition to the Globetrotters in 1988, stated in a cellphone interview. “All the pieces you see Kyrie Irving doing and Steph Curry doing now, all of it began with the Trotters. The Trotters made dribbling a present.”
Neal’s trickery established him as one of many crew’s foremost stars, alongside the likes of Meadowlark Lemon and Hubert “Geese” Ausbie, and helped the Globetrotters’ touring present develop into a daily characteristic of ABC’s “Vast World of Sports activities” in an period when the Nationwide Basketball Affiliation didn’t have a sturdy nationwide tv presence because it does now.
On the top of the Globetrotters’ recognition within the 1970s, with Neal’s supreme ball-handling abilities and long-distance capturing as prime sights, they impressed a number of animated TV collection, together with “Scooby-Doo Meets the Harlem Globetrotters” in 1972.
Additionally they carried out a few of their basketball tips on “The Ed Sullivan Present,” accompanied as at all times by the strains of “Candy Georgia Brown,” their trademark track. And so they performed themselves on tv reveals like “The White Shadow” and “Love Boat” and in a made-for-television “Gilligan’s Island” film.
“His basketball ability was unequalled by most, and his heat coronary heart and large smile introduced pleasure to households worldwide,” Jeff Munn, the Globetrotters’ basic supervisor, stated in an announcement on Thursday. “He at all times made time for his many followers and impressed thousands and thousands.”
Frederick Neal was born on Could 19, 1942, in Greensboro, N.C., and performed collegiately at Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte, the place he averaged 23 factors per recreation as a senior to earn All-Central Intercollegiate Athletic Affiliation honors. Future N.B.A. stars similar to Lou Hudson and Al Attles have been highschool and faculty contemporaries, however Neal was not drafted by an N.B.A. crew and struggled to land a job within the professionals.
“That’s what I wished to do, actually,” he instructed The New York Instances in 1983.
However a proposal quickly materialized with the Globetrotters, and Neal finally succeeded Marques Haynes, a 1992 inductee into the Basketball Corridor of Fame, because the Globetrotters’ ball-handling sensation.
Neal and Haynes “taught me the right way 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, stated on Thursday on Twitter.
“I used to be blessed to be shut with Curly and Marques Haynes,” Lieberman stated. “Curly discovered from Marques and took it to a complete totally different stage.”
The Globetrotters retired Neal’s No. 22 in 2008 in a ceremony at Madison Sq. Backyard — an honor bestowed upon solely 4 different gamers within the crew’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 Instances, saying: “I received a questionnaire letter, as a free agent. I must pay my technique to camp. The Globetrotters despatched me a aircraft ticket and gave me room and board.”
One other problem, he stated, was studying the right way 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 something about being humorous,” Neal stated.
Data on his survivors was not instantly accessible.
“The youngsters within the neighborhood, we determined to do one thing mischievous,” Neal stated. “My mother didn’t prefer it at first. She stated, ‘What occurred to you?’ And I stated, ‘I went to sleep within the barber’s chair.’”
Neal caught with that look all through his highschool and faculty profession. He stated it was Bobby Milton, the Globetrotters’ coach when Neal arrived, who determined, “We’re going to name you Curly.”
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