by Chris Bengel

HOUSTON (CBS Sports) — On Thursday, Harlem Globetrotters great Fred “Curly” Neal died in his Houston-area home at the age of 77. Neal starred for the legendary traveling basketball showcase from 1963 until 1985 and was well known for his shaved head and dribbling skills.

Curly Neal

Curly Neal of the Harlem Globetrotters photographed at halftime at a Phoenix Suns game in 2008. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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“We have lost one of the most genuine human beings the world has ever known,” Globetrotters general manager Jeff Munn said in a press release. “His 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.”

Before the sport of basketball was accessible to fans all over the world, Neal and the Harlem Globetrotters trotted around the globe, introducing the sport to many young fans. Neal was famous for his huge smile and his dribbling was some of the best that the basketball world has ever seen. Neal absolutely dazzled fans with his spectacular shooting ability in addition to his tremendous ball-handling skills.

Neal played more than 6,000 games for the Harlem Globetrotters and traveled to 97 countries during his 22-year career.

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On Feb. 15, 2008, Neal became the fifth Harlem Globetrotter to have his number retired, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Marques Haynes, Meadowlark Lemon and Goose Tatum. His No. 22 was raised to the rafters at Madison Square Garden.

Before his tenure with the Globetrotters, Neal starred at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he averaged 23 points. In addition, Neal led his team to a CIAA title as a senior. For his stellar collegiate career, the Globetrotters star was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

Neal also made appearances on a host of television programs, including “CBS Sports Spectacular,” ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Love Boat.”

Funeral services for Neal are currently pending, according to the press release.

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