It is with deep sorrow that I report that Fred “Curly” Neal of Harlem Globetrotters fame has passed at the age of 77.
For 22 seasons, spanning from 1963 to 1985, Neal delighted audiences around the world with his unparalleled dribbling skills and his soft shooting touch, packaged with his trademark shaved head and charismatic smile.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s the Globetrotters were the team to see for their mixture of basketball talents and court jester comedy hijinks. They traveled the world as ambassadors of both sport and laughter.
Darlings of the media, the Globetrotters even served as the primary plot device in the 1981 television movie The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island. Like many fans, I loved the film.
They also guest starred on The White Shadow – a television series I loved about a former Chicago Bull who transitions to being a high school basketball coach. They even had several Saturday morning cartoon series air between 1970 and 1979.
As a child, I was fortunate enough to see the Globetrotters play live at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon. It was the experience of a lifetime.
I saw future legends Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon and the supporting cast delight fans of all ages.
Inspired by the Globetrotter’s mix of basketball and entertainment, I myself dreamed of an “alternative” basketball career playing for the Washington Generals.
The Generals were an all-white basketball team that traveled with the all-black Globetrotters. The Generals were the butt of all the Globetrotter’s jokes and aside for one historic game, they always lost.
As a 5’11 white guy with a streaky outside shot, I thought I would be perfect for the Generals. I fit the qualifications perfectly: you have to be white and you have to lose. I figured I’d be a shoe in.
Sadly though, as I reached an age where I could realistically join the Washington Generals and pursue a career of losing, the Globetrotters did away with the Generals. Instead they played U.S. college teams or the national teams of foreign countries. I was crushed.
Of the Globetrotter players I had the chance to see over the years, Curly Neal was my favorite. He put smiles on people’s faces, and that is a unique talent. Just think of the millions of people whose lives he touched and the millions of smiles he inspired. He was a great entertainer and he will be sorely missed.
Peace. Love. Trust.
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