The world lost a basketball icon today (March 26th, 2020). A Harlem Globetrotters legend, Fred “Curly” Neal, passed away at the age of 77 in his home outside of Houston, Texas.
I was lucky enough to get to see Curly play, live, along with the late great Meadowlark Lemon at the inaugural Harlem Globetrotters game at the then newly opened Casper Events Center back in 1981. My father took my toddler baby brother and myself to the event. I’ll never forget, I was standing inside the ticket area, holding my little brothers hand, while my dad stood outside in a ginormous line, in the freezing snow and cold. A seemingly 8-foot tall black guy in a suit walked up to me, asked me a few questions and then gave me tickets to the game. My dad was in shock at the kindness of someone giving us tickets out of the blue and lo and behold, when the game started, the guy that gave me the tickets was on the court! It was Meadowlark Lemon! I’ll carry that memory to my grave. After seeing them all on television and in cartoons, it was surreal to get to see them play live. Curly and Meadowlark were my sport heroes, and that was way before there was a Michael Jordan.
I have been blessed to have played with and against the new generation of Globetrotters. I guess it’s poetic justice in a way, considering it was over three decades later, I’d get to share the court, in the same building, with one of the most icon teams in sport’s history.
RIP Frederick “Curly” Neal. You will be greatly missed. Thanks for the memories.