R.I.P. Fred ''Curly'' Neal of the Harlem Globetrotters
The basketball legend and Gilligan's Island visitor was 77.
Image: The Everett Collection
The Harlem Globetrotters are far more than a basketball team — they are entertainment icons. What other sports squad can claim to have a made-for-TV movie on Gilligan's Island and a Saturday morning cartoon?
The Globetrotters, founded nearly a century ago, were a regular presence on the screen throughout the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s. Their Hollywood career began in 1951 with the feature film The Harlem Globetrotters. An appearance on What's My Line? followed.
Fred "Curly" Neal joined the team in 1963. The North Carolina native (he was born and raised in Greensboro, not far from the fictional Mayberry) helped lead the team into superstardom with his flashy point guard skills and big smile.
Hanna-Barbera launched its Harlem Globetrotters cartoon in 1970, as the team became animated relatives of Fred Flintstone, the Super Friends and Yogi Bear. Throughout the Seventies, the team dazzled children on the small screen. The awesomely titled The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine (1974) cast the athletes as variety show hosts. Hanna-Barbera crafted a second cartoon series, The Super Globetrotters, in 1979. That same year, Bally released a Harlem Globetrotters on Tour pinball machine to arcades. Who better to wildly bounce around a ball?
Neal, number 22 — a uniform that is now retired by the team — was a key figure through all this. His nickname was taken from Curly of The Three Stooges, and Neal earned the monicker with his comedic skills.
Memorably, he met the castaways in the 1981 film The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island, the third reunion movie of the beloved sitcom.
Only five Globetrotters had their numbers retired. Neal passed away this week at the age of 77, according to TMZ.