Curly Neal: A basketball legend

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

Certain memories always seem a bring a smile to my face. There just seem to be certain things in past history that are feel good memories. Things like big church picnics in July with tables loaded down with food or fireworks on the Fourth of July or maybe as a kid a fun, hard fought basketball game late in the evening just as the sun is setting.

Those are all things that take me back to my childhood, maybe some of those do the same for you. Another one of those memories came to mind the other day as I saw a small article come across my news feed. It said that Fred “Curly” Neal, the famous basketball magician from the Harlem Globetrotters, had passed away at the age of 79.

Neal played in over 6,000 games as a Globetrotter from 1963-1985. That’s the equivalent of 73 NBA seasons. And Neal was always there – with that trademark shaved head and huge smile on his face – showing the crowd all his basketball tricks while embarrassing the hapless Washington Generals, the team that the Globetrotters always played.

Curly Neal was one of the best dribblers in all of basketball. He played like the ball was a yo-yo on a string, sliding across the floor on his knees while maintaining his dribble against some poor defensive player from the Generals, then popping up to make a pass inside to one of his teammates who would then pull a hidden ball trick with his defender  before laying the ball in the basket.

Curly had also perfected the half-court shot way before the three-point shot ever existed. Neal regularly hit half-court shots in his games. He, along with Meadowlark Lemon,  could always be counted on to provide a great show for kids and adults alike. Everyone always headed home with a smile on their face after watching Curly Neal and the Harlem Globetrotters perform.

Before Neal became a basketball icon with the Globetrotters he was a small college basketball player at Johnson C. Smith, a CIAA school in Charlotte, N.C. His nickname “Curly” came from his shaved head, which resembled Curly Howard of the Three Stooges fame.

Hearing that Curly Neal had passed away brought back a lot of memories for me of watching the Harlem Globetrotters perform so many classic tricks, including the bucket full of water that miraculously turned into shredded paper once it was thrown toward the crowd, to the simple tricks of ball handling like spinning the ball on one finger to the half-court hook shots and the ball on a rubber band that returned to the shooter after shooting his free throw.

I know times have changed and entertainment has changed but like fireworks in the summer, the Harlem Globetrotters, dressed in their silky looking red, white and blue uniforms, always provided a great show in whatever country around the world in which they happened to be performing.

They were classic basketball, comedy and entertainment – all wrapped up in one. Fred “Curley” Neal was one of the best at it and he, and his light-up-the- room smile, will be sorely missed in a world that could use more of what he and the Globetrotters had to offer.

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