It would be disingenuous to say that my favorite Globetrotter was Curly Neal. That distinction belongs to the late, great Meadowlark Lemon, the Clown Prince of Basketball. Curly was an easy choice for second, and gets extra points for sticking around to trot the globe just a little longer than Meadow. And he could dribble. And spin a ball on his finger. Or his head. Or most any surface. He was a magician with a basketball, especially the red, white and blue versions he and his teammates preferred.
So here's the thing: I would like to believe that I was clever enough to discern, even at an early age, that the games the Harlem Globetrotters played were really fixed exhibitions. The Washington Generals recorded wins in 1954, 1958, and 1971. The several hundred other games they played against their arch rivals, the Harlem Globetrotters, were losses. But the real winners were the crowds who attended these "contests."
A momentary aside: I have had to reckon along with a great many young men about whether or not professional wrestling is real. I tell them that these are tremendous athletes, who are dedicated performers and capable of a great many things. Wrestling, in its most traditional sense, is not one of those things. In this way, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson shared something with Curly Neal (aside from the bald head). In the words of David Letterman, "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is not a competition, only an exhibition. Please, no wagering."
Because you would have to be a fool to bet against Fred Curly Neal and the Harlem Globetrotters. They were athletes of extraordinary talent. Half court hook shot? No problem. Dribbling circles around the competition? Easy. And that water bucket that we're all sure is probably full of confetti? Well, don't be so sure, because you never know.
But you knew that when Curly was on the court, you were going to get a show. So much so that he and the gang were easily transferable to such diverse locations as Peking, tagging along with Scooby and Shaggy, or even a visit to Gilligan's Island. For twenty-two years, Curly Neal amazed us all with his seemingly effortless basketball skill, entertaining millions as he trotted around the globe. Because that's what he did. Curly Neal trotted on the Terra, and dribbled around the globe. He made his final free throw last week at the age of seventy-seven. He will be missed, because he never did.