Harlem Globetrotters legend Fred ‘Curly’ Neal dies at 77

Former Harlem Globetrotter Fred “Curly” Neal died at age 77 at his home in Houston, the exhibition basketball team announced Thursday.

Neal’s awe-inspiring ballhandling and legendary shooting skills made him one of the Globetrotters’ featured players for 22 seasons, before he left the team in 1985. His bald head earned him the nickname “Curly,” a reference to the hairless Three Stooges member Curly Howard.

Globetrotters General Manager Jeff Munn said in a statement Thursday that the organization has lost “one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known.”

“His basketball skill was unrivaled by most, and his warm heart and huge smile brought joy to families worldwide,” Munn said. “He always made time for his many fans and inspired millions.”

Neal’s number, 22, was retired in 2008, and his jersey was lifted into the rafters at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He was honored with a “Legends” ring, given to those who have made major contributions to the development of the Globetrotters.

A native of Greensboro, North Carolina, Neal played college ball at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte and was eventually inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

Neal also enjoyed a television career, playing himself in a number of programs and specials. He appeared on “The Love Boat,” “The White Shadow” and the TV movie “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.”