CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Johnson C. Smith University had a special place in basketball legend Curly Neal’s heart as the training ground for his eventual superstardom.
It seemed fitting that the Harlem Globetrotters take a “spin” in the Queen City with their familiar red, white, and blue basketballs. Trotters Flip White and Scooter Christensen visited with students to celebrate the approachable icon with a megawatt smile, who died in 2020.
The Globetrotters have devoted this year’s Spread Game tour to the man who became a household name in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
“His impact was not just on the court, it was off the court,” said White. “He did so much for the community all over. He brought smiles and joy to everybody.”
“Globetrotters has been my life and I wouldn’t do anything else,” Neal once declared.
When you think of Curly, you think of his uncanny control of the basketball. Over the course of 22 years, he dribbled, spun, and delighted audiences in 97 countries.
Way before the introduction of the three-point line, he was also known for his incredible long-distance sharpshooting. Whether you watched him in black and white or in color, Curly’s talent and charisma were eye-popping.
JCSU teammate John “T-Bone” Crawford played with Neal for one season back in 1960.
“It was in my heyday!” said Crawford. “For me, he was almost a Globetrotter before he went to the Globetrotters in terms of what he could do with the basketball and handle it.”
In college, Curly dribbled a basketball wherever he went.
“Oh, I thought he was ready!” Crawford says. “I thought he was ready because to me he almost came to Johnson C. Smith ready to be a showman.
Over the course of 22 years, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, shared the stage with the likes of Goldie Hawn, and even appeared with a cast of castaways.
“And woo, we had a ball on Gilligan’s Island with Mary Ann, Ginger the professor,” Neal once said in a video recalling his most memorable moments.
Neal was eventually joined by another JCSU star — Twiggy Sanders. That gives the school two claims to Globetrotters fame.
At the event Friday afternoon, the Globetrotters presented Neal’s number 22 Jersey to JCSU.
“So to know where you come from and the legacy… and to know the impact the Globetrotters had and the impact he had on the team,” Christensen said.
That influence gave generations of kids something to shoot for.