One of the truly magical dribblers and shooters in basketball history, Fred “Curly” Neal embraced the imagination of fans all over the world, playing in more than 6,000 games in 97 countries as a key member of the World Famous Harlem Globetrotters. Number 22 played for 22 seasons in the red, white and blue, from 1963 to 1985. In addition to being known as one of the greatest all-time dribblers, “Curly” was an incredible shooter.
“Curly” was part of one of the most extraordinary eras in the team’s history, appearing on several popular television programs and specials, including “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” “The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine,” and “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.” He was also immortalized in animation on “The Harlem Globetrotters” cartoon series and on episodes of “Scooby Doo.”
Still sporting the trademark shaved head, wide smile and infectious laugh that made him a pop culture icon for decades, “Curly’s” number 22 Globetrotter jersey was retired by the team at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, during the team’s performance in New York on Feb. 15, 2008. “Curly” became just the fifth Globetrotter in the team’s illustrious 82-year history to have his jersey number retired, joining some of the biggest names in basketball lore: Wilt Chamberlain (13), Meadowlark Lemon (36), Marques Haynes (20) and Goose Tatum (50).
“Curly Neal represents the purity of sport and everything that is great about the Globetrotters and the game of basketball,” said Globetrotters CEO Kurt Schneider. “He helped build this organization into a worldwide phenomenon, and he truly personifies wholesome family entertainment and elicits fond memories for millions of fans around the world.”
“Curly” is also one of only 27 people honored in the Harlem Globetrotters’ prestigious “Legends” ring, presented to those who have made a major contribution to the success and the development of the Globetrotters organization. A special advisory board selects honorees that have excelled off the court, in athletic ability, showmanship, humanitarian contributions, and crowd appeal. “Curly” was inducted into the Globetrotters’ “Legends” ring on June 25, 1993.
After an outstanding career at James B. Dudley High School in Greensboro, N.C., “Curly” moved on to Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., where he averaged over 23 points per game and led his team to the CIAA title his senior year. He lives in Greensboro with his wife, Rose, and continues to make appearances for the Globetrotters as an “Ambassador of Goodwill.”
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