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Curly Neal gives a fan his autograph last Saturday.

Curly Neal gives a fan his autograph last Saturday. (Charlie Reed / S&S)

Basketball great Curly Neal took a few minutes to chat with Stars and Stripes during an appearance at RAF Lakenheath on Saturday. He is shaking hands, signing autographs and cutting up with fans during his tour of U.S. bases in the United Kingdom, Norway and Turkey.

Neal captured the imagination of fans all over the world while playing for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1963 to 1985. During his tenure, he traveled millions of miles, performed in 97 countries and played in more than 6,000 basketball games.

Do you miss playing basketball?I miss the fans and my teammates more than anything. But most of all the fans, because they made it all possible. That’s what made being a Globetrotter so rewarding.

This isn’t your first tour of military bases, right? No, I’ve been doing this for years. We try to provide great entertainment for the troops and their families, because they do so much for us. All it takes is a few minutes to be nice, shake hands and hug some kids. It warms my heart because [the troops] put their lives on the line for all of us. It makes me feel good to just extend a little bit of myself for all they do.

What is your No. 1 piece of advice for the kids you meet?

Education. Education. Education. Strive to be nothing but the best. But not everyone is going to be a professional athlete so that’s why you’ve got to get an education. And I always tell them to be good to their parents.

Getting back to the game, was there a real rivalry between the Globetrotters and the Washington Generals?Sometimes on the court there was. But we didn’t take it any further than that. … They had a great team. Some that played for the Generals went on to play for the Globetrotters. They’re getting better. I take my hat off to them. It’s just a game. …

So what’s the trick to spinning a basketball on your finger?Practice. All it is is practice.

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