September 20, 2020

Curly Neal, Globetrotters’ Dazzling Dribbler, Dies at 77

He admittedly “didn’t know anything about being funny” when he joined the comedic basketball team, but he became one of its biggest stars.

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

The team announced the death but gave no other details.

Nicknamed “Curly” upon joining the Globetrotters in a humorous nod to his shaved head, Neal played in more than 6,000 exhibition games for the Globetrotters from 1963 to 1985, mostly against the Washington Generals, their hapless foils.

In one of the most highly anticipated elements of the Globetrotters’ routine, Neal would dribble all over the court, frequently sliding on his knees, never losing control of the ball no matter how close to the hardwood he had lowered himself. Then he would bounce the ball through a flailing defender’s legs near the free-throw line and dribble in for an uncontested layup to finish off the move.

“Oh my gosh, he revolutionized ball handling,” Nancy Lieberman, who played for the Generals against the Globetrotters in 1988, said in a phone 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.”

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