“Curly” Neal, whose flashy dribbling skills and smile made him a Harlem Globetrotters legend, has died at 77, according to the team. Neal died at his home near Houston
“We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known,” Globetrotters General Manager Jeff Munn said. “Curly’s basketball skill was unrivaled by most, and his warm heart and huge smile brought joy to families worldwide.”
Known for his impressive ballhandling and shooting skills, Neal played for the Harlem Globetrotters for 22 years before his retirement in 1985. In addition to his legendary basketball career, he also appeared on The Love Boat, The White Shadow, Superboy, Best Friends Forever, and TV movie The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island; plus, he did voiceover work on several episodes of The New Scooby-Doo Movies.
Born on May 19, 1941, in Greensboro, North Carolina, Neal got his start playing basketball in college at Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina. He joined the Globetrotters in 1963, and played more than 6,000 games in 97 countries over 22 years on the team. The Globetrotters retired Neal’s jersey No. 22 in 2008.
“Between 1963 and 1985 — before the internet and cable television really existed — it was Curly Neal and the Harlem Globetrotters who first introduced the sport of basketball to millions of people around the world for the first time,” the Globetrotters Twitter account says. “It was Curly’s magical ball-handling, shooting, charismatic smile and iconic bald head… that made them start to play and fall in love with the game.”