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Remembering Fred "Curly" Neal
Thank You Curly Neal
by Mark R. Elsis
It was February of 1970, and I had just turned twelve-years-old a month earlier. I lived and breathed basketball since before my first Intramural game, which didn't happen when scheduled on November 9, 1965, because that was the evening of the Great Northeast Blackout.
I was a motivated and gifted athlete, and one of the best basketball players for my age in New York City. Right around this same time, many High School scouts were watching me play and I had just met and talked with the legendary Dan Buckley, head coach of varsity basketball, at the perennial basketball powerhouse, La Salle Academy.
The two basketball players I tried my best to emulate were, defensively, Walt "Clyde" Frazier of the New York Knickerbockers, and offensively, the phenomenal Collegiate player from LSU, "Pistol Pete" Maravich. Both of these players became members of The 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
Since it was the dead of Winter, I was playing basketball indoors at the Lost Battalion Hall in Rego Park, Queens. I was by myself, late in the afternoon, working on just playing left-handed. I'm mostly right-handed but yet quite ambidextrous, and I soon understood with the insistence of my helpful coach at the time Mr. Kidell, that if I could become almost as good left-handed with dribbling and shooting, then the defense couldn't overplay me on my right side. I had been working hard on left-handed playing for some time, and it started to become more and more natural to me.
I was diligently and repetitively practicing when I heard a voice from behind tell me, hey kid, you're great, and you're right-handed, playing with your left hand. I looked behind me, and to my utter astonishment, it was the greatest ball-handler in the world, the superstar of the Harlem Globetrotters, Curly Neal. I said thank you, and yes, I'm mostly right-handed, and that's why I was working on my left-handed play because I'm trying to become the best basketball player I can be. He immediately understood.
With a big smile on his face, he asked me my name, and can I shootaround with you? I said my name was Mark, and yes, please, shootaround with me. So we shot around and talked basketball for about fifteen minutes. Curly then asked me if I wanted to play him in a pickup game, just him and I, one-on-one? Of course, I couldn't say yes quick enough.
While we were playing, my Mother, who was to pick me up and drive us home, walked in without me at first noticing and stood beside the court while Curly and I played. When I finally noticed her watching us play, I ran up to her and excitedly told her this man that I was playing basketball with was the great Curly Neal of the Harlem Globetrotters. She knew this meant the world to me, and was so happy for me.
When we finished playing our one-on-one game, I asked Curly, could you please shoot your famous half-court set shot for me?
He told me sure, took the shot and swished it.
I asked him could you to please do it again? He kidded around with me saying, didn't you just see it just go swish.
He shot it for the second time, and it went swish again. So, I asked him for a third time to please do it again? He told me that he never made three in a row.
So for me, Curly shot his famous half-court set shot for the third time, and it went swish for the third time in a row.
It was magical for me, and for my Mom to also witness this benevolent giving man playing basketball with her son, while instilling in him how great of a basketball player he already was, and could become even better, which I immediately did. I became a much-improved basketball player in the half-hour that I played basketball with Curly Neal because here was the most talented man with a basketball telling me I'm also a skilled and a great basketball player.
When we were saying our goodbyes, I remember my Mother shaking hands and thanking Curly for being so gracious and taking the time to play basketball with me.
I told my basketball teammates that I played one-on-one basketball with Curly Neal, but no one believed me.
I had to get my Mom to tell some of my teammates before they finally relented and believed me.
Now, fifty years later, I want the world to know what this benevolent giving man did for that 12-year-old boy late one Winter afternoon on a side court at the Lost Battalion Hall.
Frederick "Curly" Neal passed away on March 26, 2020. Thank you so much for that half-hour you spent one-on-one with me Curly, and may you rest in peace, you beautiful man.
Curly Neal: Basketball's First Ambassador (3:38)
Fred 'Curly' Neal Dies At 77
Globetrotter Legend Fred "Curly" Neal 1942 - 2020
Meetings and Stories
by Mark R. Elsis
|Category||News & Politics|
|Sensitivity||Normal - Content that is suitable for ages 16 and over|
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