DETROIT (FOX 2) - Former Pistons center and team ambassador Earl Cureton died on Sunday. The Detroit native spent 12 years in the NBA -- and has helped lead several community events.
"For the last 10 years he served as our community ambassador and if we had an event in the community Earl was there," said Kevin Grigg, Pistons communications officer.
"Earl the Twirl" played basketball for Detroit Finney High School, the University of Detroit and the Detroit Pistons. He died Sunday at the age of 66.
"I’ve known Earl since we were both 15 years old, playing high school basketball ball in the summers in Detroit," said for Piston and team broadcaster Greg Kelser. "And once we met, we became friends and we never lost touch - 51 years."
In addition to playing for the Pistons — Cureton played for several other NBA teams but Detroit was always home.
His sudden passing was a shock.
"He would just come in and you felt his presence, he had such an engaging smile, he had a great laugh and he made everybody feel comfortable," said Grigg.
Cureton cared deeply about Detroit - and the people of the city — especially children.
"He really saw basketball as a vehicle to inspire kids," Grigg said.
In 2020, Cureton spoke with FOX 2 about why it was so important to him to connect with young people.
"It’s kind of hard to communicate with kids if you haven’t sat in their shoes before," he said. "I've sat in their shoes, I've been in the same place where they were at, letting them know that it’s possible."
No doubt he inspired countless people — both young and old.
"He was the most giving, rock-solid good guy that you’ll ever meet in your life," said Detroit Pistons broadcaster George Blaha.
The 6-foot-9 Cureton began his collegiate career with Robert Morris before transferring to Detroit Mercy for his final two seasons under then-coach Dick Vitale. The Detroit native was selected by Philadelphia in the third round of the 1979 NBA draft.
Cureton averaged 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds in 674 NBA games. He played for Philly, Detroit, Chicago, the Los Angeles Clippers, Charlotte, Houston and Toronto. He was part of championship teams with the 1982-83 76ers and 93-94 Rockets.
He also coached in the NBA, United States Basketball League and Continental Basketball Association after his playing career.
"He was a tremendous teammate, tough competitor, a champion and a great human being," former Pistons guard Isiah Thomas said in the team’s release. "Earl always held the Detroit community close to his heart and worked tirelessly to make a difference for the city he loved. He will be greatly missed."
---The Associated Press contributed to this story
Earl "The Twirl" Cureton