Detroit – Earl Cureton had a long and well-traveled basketball career, which spanned nearly two decades and saw him play for seven NBA teams and numerous organizations overseas.
But Cureton has always had only one real home. That was always Detroit.
Cureton, who played for the University of Detroit and then for the Detroit Pistons and served for many years as a tireless ambassador for both, died Sunday morning, the Pistons and Detroit Mercy confirmed. He was 66 years old. The cause of death was not immediately known. He collapsed at his Farmington Hills home Sunday morning.
“Earl was one of the most generous, positive and caring people I know,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said in a statement announcing Cureton’s death on Sunday. “He was a loving father, and I was honored to be his friend.
“He was a hero as a player and an important ambassador in our community. We are saddened by his loss.”
Cureton worked the ESPN+ broadcast of Detroit Mercy's game against Robert Morris at Callihan Hall on Saturday afternoon. That game was always a favorite on Cureton's broadcast schedule, as he is in the Detroit Mercy and Robert Morris Athletics Hall of Fame.
Cureton grew up in Detroit in the 1960s, amid race riots, and played basketball at the famous St. Cecilia Arena on the city's west side, before transferring to Detroit's Finney High School. He then attended Robert Morris, and played a season there — Robert Morris' first in Division I, after jumping from junior college — and averaged 17.9 points and 10.5 rebounds, before deciding to return home, to what was then known as the University of Detroit.
Cureton rose from four inches tall to 6 feet, 9 inches, between high school and his arrival at the University of Detroit. He sat out a season under NCAA transfer rules, meaning he never got to play under then-Detroit coach Dick Vitale, who left for the Pistons the following year and eventually had a legendary broadcasting career — but Cureton considered Vitale Long time mentor. After all, it was Vitale who brought him from Robert Morris to Detroit.
“I'm sad,” Vitale said in a text message to The News on Sunday. Vitaly is fighting a long battle against cancer, and is following doctors' orders not to speak. He underwent a four-hour surgery on his vocal cords last month. “He loved the Motor City and took great pride in working hard to get to the NBA.
“Earl was always trying to inspire young people to follow their dreams.”
Cureton has done that, on and off the field.
Cureton, along with the likes of Terry Durwood, who died in 2020, Gerry Davis, Wilbert McCormick, and Dave Niles, led the Giants to the 1979 NCAA Championship. The Giants finished that season ranked 20th in the nation. Cureton averaged 11.7 points and nine rebounds as a junior, and 19.9 points and 9.1 rebounds as a senior.
He was selected in the third round of the 1979 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, and also played for the Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, and Houston Rockets. The power forward won an NBA championship with the 76ers in 1983 and with the Rockets in 1994, and averaged 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds during a 12-year NBA career that ended after the 1996-97 season.
During his career, Cureton called some of the NBA's greatest players teammates, including Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Hakin Olajuwon, Moses Malone and Charles Oakley, among others.
He played for Detroit from 1983-86, averaging 8.6 points and 6.3 rebounds in his final year here, 1985-86.
“We are all devastated by the unexpected loss of Earl Cureton,” Pistons legend Isiah Thomas said in a statement. “He was a great teammate, a tough competitor, a champion and a great human being. Earl always held the Detroit community close to his heart and worked tirelessly to make a difference for the city he loved.”
“We will miss him very much.”
Cureton returned to the Pistons in an official capacity in 2013, helping lead Juris' efforts to renovate basketball courts around the city. He also hosted community events and was a fixture in Gores' annual Toys for Tots campaign.
Late last year, Cureton released his autobiography, “Earl the Twirl: My Life in Basketball,” in which he talked about his journey in the NBA and the importance of being a good teammate. In his case, it led to a long and prosperous career, even though he was not the star of the professional teams he played for. However, he starred in college.
Cureton saw his No. 24 retired by Detroit Mercy in 2020, one of 11 Detroit/Detroit Mercy men's basketball players to receive the honor. Cureton was inducted into the Detroit Mercy Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007. In 1991, he was an inaugural member of the Robert Morris Athletics Hall of Fame.
“It's pretty unbelievable,” Cureton, one of only two former Robert Morris players to play in the NBA, told The News during an interview in 2021. “It gives you a little bit of bragging rights, where you've gone you've been influential.” .
Cureton, whose Titans won 36 games during his two seasons on the team under the late coach Smokey Gaines, returned to Detroit Mercy men's basketball broadcasts in the early 2000s, working alongside play-by-play man By playing Dan Hasty and Jeremy Otto more recently. Years, always fully dressed, and always with the best chair on campus. Cureton worked two Titans games on television last week, Thursday and Saturday.
In 2011, Cureton earned his degree from the University of Detroit Mercy, fulfilling a promise he made to his mother after leaving school early to turn professional, that he would one day finish his studies.
Detroit Mercy athletic director Robert Voyles said Cureton was an almost daily presence in Callihan Hall, even on days off. He has been attending practice regularly, and was scheduled to co-host Detroit Mercy Night on Tuesday at Wayne State, where the NBA G League's Motor City Cruise is scheduled to host Rip City Remix, for which former Titans star Antoine Davis currently plays.
“What it means to the city and what it means to this program and what it means to the community, it's really sad,” Voyles said. “Earl is a true Detroit giant if there ever was one.
“He loves this school, he loves the people, he loves the community, and he thrives in it.
“That's what got him out of bed every day.”
After his playing days, Cureton did some coaching in the WNBA, NBA, and Continental Basketball Association. He also did some radio work for Bally Sports Detroit.
Cureton is survived by his wife, Judith, and daughter, Sari, who played basketball at Georgetown.
Funeral arrangements were pending Sunday.
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