Harlem Globetrotters legend Fred "Curly" Neal died on Wednesday night and he was 77 years old. He was a member of the Globetrotters during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and he's arguably the most popular athlete to wear the Globetrotters colors outside of Wilt Chamberlain.
Back in 2008, Neal talked about how he got started with the Globetrotters. He told bullz-eye.com: "I was 21 years old when I joined the Globetrotters. I had five offers, you know: the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, St. Louis Hawks, Baltimore Bullets and the Globetrotters. Abe Saperstein sent me a nice letter – red, white and blue stationary – and offered me to come to Chicago, Illinois, at DePauw University, and try out amongst 125 guys for his basketball team. They chose five players, and I happened to be in that lucky five."
Neal started his career with the Globetrotters in 1963 and his final year was in 1985. His skillset and personality led to him being on various television shows such as Scooby-Doo and Gilligan's Island. He is only one of five Globetrotters to have his jersey retired at Madison Square Garden and with him being from North Carolina, Neal was inducted to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
Here's a look at fans paying tribute to Neal.
Globetrotter legend Fred "Curly" Neal passed away last night, former Globetrotters owner Mannie Jackson told @TheUndefeated. Jackson said Neal has been fighting a stroke in recent years.— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) March 26, 2020
Former NFL player Marcus Spears, who now works for ESPN, shared a little more information on Neal's death. He had his share of health issues over the years which could have caused his passing. The official cause of death has yet to be announced.
Dr. Curley 'Boo' Johnson
FRED “CURLY” NEAL Last night the World lost a true ambassador of the game of basketball and outside of Muhammad Ali one of the most recognizable faces on the Planet! Rest In Peace my Brother.... #harlemglobetrotters pic.twitter.com/7XsCfyDGJZ— Dr. Curley Boo Johnson (@BooCurley) March 26, 2020
Fellow Globetrotter Curley "Boo" Johnson paid tribute to his friend on Thursday. He called Neal one of the most recognizable faces in the world which is hard to argue since the team would do over 400 shows all over the world per year.
Johnson C. Smith Univeristy
It is with tremendous sorrow that Johnson C. Smith University shares the recent passing of Fred "Curly" Neal, a 1975 alumnus who was a former member of the Harlem Globetrotters and the Golden Bulls basketball team. Rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/DLarKzX6l4— Johnson C. Smith U. (@JCSUniversity) March 26, 2020
Neal's alma mater also paid tribute to him. He was a standout player for the school as he averaged 23 points per contest. He could have played in the NBA, but Neal decided to take his talents to the Globetrotters.
Today the Orlando Magic and sports world mourn the passing of Fred ‘Curly’ Neal. We extend our deepest condolences to his family.— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) March 26, 2020
NBA teams also showed love to Neal as he was a big ambassador for the game of basketball. While Neal was with the Globetrotters, it's safe to say that NBA players during that time looked up to him because of what he could do with the basketball.
Selfie with Fan
RIP to my all time favorite Harlem Globetrotter Fred "Curly" Neal. Thanks for the memories! pic.twitter.com/55AjxvLKu0— chris brathwaite (@number1bajan) March 26, 2020
This fan took a look back at the time he got a selfie with Neal. Anyone who follows the Globetrotters knows about Neal despite not being part of the team for 35 years. He made such an impact that fans of all ages looked up to him.
Oh man, another part of my childhood has died. Dont try to tell me you're not whistling "sweet Georgia Brown" in your head right now!. RIP Curly #HarlemGlobetrotters #CurlyNeal #basketball #ICON https://t.co/UFWfmDMdiU— Nik Carter (@TheNotoriousNIK) March 26, 2020
Nick Carter was not happy about the passing of Neal. The Globetrotters legend was a basketball player Carter looked up to and his passing led to him getting the song "Sweet Georgia Brown" stuck in his head. For many, Neal is the first person that comes to mind when talking about the Globetrotters.
Message for Curly
RIP. Thank you, Curly Neal, for hours & hours of fun & laughter.— Jacquie Stephens (@Jazmo0712) March 26, 2020
I adored the Globetrotters as a kid, probably more so than NBA, LOL
Harlem Globetrotters Legend Fred 'Curly' Neal Dead At 77 https://t.co/pjnhpVsnNc via @TMZ
This fan wrote an emotional message to Neal, thanking him for what he did over the year. Neal was good at making people smile, especially children, and because of the impact, he made on and off the court, there were some that loved the Globetrotters more than NBA teams.