Harlem Globetrotters icon Fred ‘Curly’ Neal dies at 77

March 26 (UPI) — Harlem Globetrotters legend Fred “Curly” Neal, the face of the team for more than two decades, died Thursday morning in his home outside of Houston at the age of 77, the team announced.

Neal, who was a skilled dribbler and shooter known for his trademark shaved head and playful banter, was with the Globetrotters from 1963 through 1985. He had his No. 22 jersey retired in February 2008, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Marques Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon and Goose Tatum as the only players at the time to have their jerseys retired.

“We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known,” Globetrotters general manager Jeff Munn said in a statement Thursday. “Curly’s basketball skill was unrivaled by most, and his warm heart and huge smile brought joy to families worldwide. He always made time for his many fans and inspired millions.”

Neal played in more than 6,000 games across 97 countries during his time with the Globetrotters. He joined the team after averaging more than 23 points per game during his senior season at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. He led the school to the CIAA title that year.

Neal also was a recipient of the Globetrotters’ prestigious “Legends” ring in 1998 for making “a major contribution to the success and the development of the Globetrotters organization.” It’s the second highest honor a former Globetrotters player can receive outside of jersey retirement.

Neal was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 alongside Tar Heels head basketball coach Roy Williams.