skip navigation

March Hall Pass Newsletter

By Rick Strunk and Helen Ross, 03/22/22, 2:15PM EDT


Our March Newsletter has a special basketball theme focusing on the iconic Harlem Globetrotters.  Our feature story is about one of the greatest ball handlers of all-time, NCSHOF member Fred "Curly" Neal, while our "Did You Know?" story describes the Globetrotter connection in the Hall.  And there is information about a special Globetrotter tour with a number of games being played across North Carolina where you can see them play. Enjoy!



Curly Neal at his best


       For Curly Neal, the decision was a no-brainer. 

       The athletic 6-foot-1 point guard had gone undrafted despite averaging 23 points and earning all-conference honors at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte. A few NBA teams sent him a questionnaire, but he would have to pay his own way to try out.

       Not the Harlem Globetrotters, though.

       “The Globetrotters sent me a plane ticket and gave me room and board,” Neal told the New York Times in 1983. 

       The invitation from the Globetrotters was printed on red, white and blue stationary. About 125 hopefuls came to the tryouts at DePaul University.

       “They only chose five,” Neal once told the Richmond Free Press. “I was one of the lucky five.”

       Basketball fans, actually, were the lucky ones as Neal embarked on a celebrated career with the Globetrotters, a team that mixed basketball with comedy and toured around the world.

       The Greensboro, North Carolina native, who was a high school star at Dudley High there, played 22 seasons and more than 6,000 games with the Globetrotters, retiring in 1985. During that time, Neal, who was known for his ball-handling prowess, long-range jump shot and always, that megawatt smile, played in 97 countries – and on every continent except Antarctica.

       Basketball was supposed to be fun,” Neal once told Ed Hardin, the former columnist at the Greensboro News & Record. “Nobody ever said you couldn’t laugh and smile and play basketball at the same time.”

       The Globetrotters retired Neal’s No. 22 jersey in 2008 – the same year he was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame -- during a ceremony at Madison Square Garden. He is one of just seven players to have his jersey retired, joining another N.C. native and NCSHOF inductee Meadowlark Lemon.

       "Curly Neal represents the purity of sport and everything that is great about the Globetrotters and the game of basketball," then-Globetrotters CEO Kurt Schneider said at the time. 

       In 1993, Neal also was presented with the Globetrotters “Legends” ring that recognizes players for their humanitarian efforts as well as continuing involvement with the team. He remained a public relations representative of the team until he died in March of 2020 at the age of 77. 

       “We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known,” Globetrotters general manager Jeff Munn said at the time,

       Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr added on Twitter: “Hard to express how much joy Curly Neal brought to my life growing up.”

       The Globetrotters’ 2022 Spread Game Tour is dedicated to Neal. The tour will take the team to Raleigh, Boone, Asheville, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Winston-Salem, Greenville, Wilmington and Greensboro in March and April.

       Neal, whose given name was Fred, received his nickname of Curly in deference to his bald head when he joined the Globetrotters. In truth, though, he’d been shaving his head since he was 12 years old.

       “The kids in the neighborhood, we decided to do something mischievous,” Neal told in 2008. “My mom didn’t like it at first. She said, ‘What happened to you?’ And I said, ‘I went to sleep in the barber’s chair.’”

       At one point during her Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame career, Nancy Lieberman played for the Washington Generals, the team that toured with and played against the Globetrotters. She told the New York Times that Neal “revolutionized” ball-handling. 

       “Everything you see Kyrie Irving doing and Steph Curry doing now, all of it started with the Trotters,” she said. “The Trotters made dribbling a show.”

       Isaiah Thomas, who played on two NBA Championship teams in Detroit, agreed with Lieberman. When Neal died, he retweeted a video of the Globetrotters legend dribbling on his knees, sitting down and between his legs, then making shots from near half court with this text:

       “For those who say the game has evolved? I say what’s old is new again. Distance Shot making and dribbling is back!! #CurlyNeal and #MarcusHaynes taught me how to dribble #Globetrotters”

       Neal had the basketball skills from the get-go, but he once told the New York Times that he had to learn to be an entertainer. Once he did, though, there was no stopping him.  

       “Making other people smile made me happy,” he told Hardin. It must have been a wonderful life.



Curly and Meadowlark

            Fred “Curly” Neal, inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, played more than 6,000 basketball games in 97 countries for the Harlem Globetrotters during his storied career.

            But he is not the only Globetrotter legend with strong North Carolina roots who wound up being inducted into the NCSHOF.  In fact, there is a remarkable parallel between Neal and another Trotter star—Meadowlark Lemon, often referred to as the “Clown Prince” of basketball.

            Neal and Lemon performed together for many years, as Lemon played in more than 7,500 games in almost 100 countries of the world.   Meadowlark was a star at Williston High School in Wilmington, NC, and joined the Globetrotters in 1954 after a stint in the Army. When Neal joined the team in 1963, they formed an amazing one-two punch of skill and showmanship.

            The North Carolina duo represents two of the seven players in the storied history of the Globetrotter organization to have their numbers retired, Neal with his number 22 and Lemon with 36.  And both men were recognized by the prestigious Harlem Globetrotter “Legends” ring, presented to those who have made major contributions to the success and development of the Globetrotters organization. 

            Meadowlark Lemon joined the NCSHOF in 1975 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.  He spent the last several years of his life as an ordained minister and motivational speaker and passed away in 2015 at the age of 83.

            Neal continued to make appearances for the Globetrotters as an "Ambassador of Goodwill" after his active playing career and passed away on March 26, 2020 at his home outside Houston at the age of 77.

            So North Carolina’s wonderful basketball tradition covers just about every aspect of the game, including two of the more famous players on one of the iconic teams in the sport—Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon of the Harlem Globetrotters.



       The 2022 Spread Game Tour is dedicated to Globetrotters Legend Fred “Curly” Neal. The year is significant, since Curly played 22 seasons for the Globetrotters, wearing #22 for all those years. He passed away in March, 2020, just days after the team completed its most recent US Tour.

       Neal’s magical dribbling skills and long-range shooting abilities reinforced his status as one of the top players on the team, becoming one of the world’s most recognizable sports stars. His magnanimous smile and easygoing nature endeared him to fans, both in person and through television.

       In addition, Curly’s legendary television appearances cemented his status as a global icon. Not only was he featured in several episodes of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, but he also starred in the Globetrotters’ special appearance on the TV show “Gilligan’s Island.” Furthermore, Curly was immortalized in animated form, both on “Scooby Doo” and in the team’s own animated series for Hanna-Barbara.


The tour has a number of dates scheduled in North Carolina:

Raleigh, PNC Arena, March 27 

Greenville, Minges Coliseum East Carolina, March 28

Wilmington, Trask Coliseum UNCW,  March 29

Boone, Holmes Center Appalachian State,  March 30

Asheville, Harrah’s Cherokee Center, March 31

Greensboro Coliseum, April 8

Winston-Salem, LJVM Coliseum, April 10

Fayetteville,  Crown Coliseum, April 13 

Charlotte, Bojangles Coliseum, April 15 

     Click here for more information and tickets to games!