detroit — Earl Cureton had a long and well-traveled professional basketball career, which spanned nearly two decades and saw him play with seven NBA franchises and multiple overseas organizations.
But Cureton always had only one true home. That was always Detroit.
Cureton, who played for the University of Detroit and later the Detroit Pistons and for many years served 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 Sunday. “He was a loving father and it was an honor for me to be his friend.
“He was a champion as a player and an important ambassador in our community. We are heartbroken by his loss.”
Cureton had worked on the ESPN+ broadcast for Detroit Mercy’s game against Robert Morris at Calihan Hall on Saturday afternoon. That game was always a favorite on Cureton’s broadcast calendar, as he is in the Athletics Hall of Fame at both Detroit Mercy and Robert Morris.
Cureton grew up in Detroit in the 1960s, amidst racial unrest, playing basketball at famed St. Cecilia’s on the city’s west side before becoming a star at Detroit Finney High School. He then attended Robert Morris, where he played one season (Robert Morris’s first in Division I, after making the jump from 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 had grown four inches, to 6-foot-9, between high school and his arrival at the University of Detroit. He sat out one season under NCAA transfer rules, meaning he never got to play for then-Detroit coach Dick Vitale, who left for the Pistons the following year and ultimately had a legendary television career, but Cureton long considered Vitale a mentor. After all, it was Vitale who brought him from Robert Morris to Detroit.
“I’m heartbroken,” Vitale said in a text message to The News on Sunday. Vitale has been in a long battle with cancer and follows doctors’ orders not to speak. Last month he underwent a four-hour surgery on his vocal cords. “He loved the Motor City and he was very proud of working so hard to get to the NBA.
“And Earl always tried to inspire young people to follow their dreams.”
Cureton did so, on and off the court.
Cureton, along with players such as Terry Duerod, who died in 2020, Jerry Davis, Wilbert McCormick and Dave Niles, led the Titans to the 1979 NCAA Tournament. The Titans finished that season ranked 20th nationally. 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 NBA championships with the 76ers in 1983 and the Rockets in 1994, and averaged 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds in 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, Hakeen 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 hurt by the unexpected loss of Earl Cureton,” Pistons legend Isiah Thomas said in a statement. “He was a tremendous 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 in the city he loved.
“He will be greatly missed.”
Cureton rejoined the Pistons in an official capacity in 2013, to help lead Gores’ efforts to renovate basketball courts across the city. He also organized community events and was key in Gores’ annual Toys for Tots campaign.
Late last year, Cureton published an autobiography, “Earl the Twirl: My Life in Basketball,” in which he talked about his NBA career and the importance of being a good teammate. In his case, this led to a long and prosperous career, although he was not the star on the professional teams for which he played. However, he starred in college.
Cureton saw his number 24 retired by Detroit Mercy in 2020, and is one of 11 Detroit/Detroit Mercy men’s basketball players to hold that honor. Cureton had been 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.
“That’s pretty incredible. It gives you a little bit of bragging rights, where I went I had an impact,” Cureton, one of only two former Robert Morris players to play in the NBA, told The News during an interview in 2021.
Cureton, whose Titans won 36 games during his two seasons playing for the team under late head coach Smokey Gaines, rejoined Detroit Mercy’s men’s basketball broadcasts in the early 2000s, working alongside Dan Hasty and Jeremy Otto in recent times. years, always dressed to the nines and always with perhaps the most beautiful chair on campus. Cureton worked both Titans games on television last week, Thursday and Saturday.
In 2011, Cureton earned his degree at Detroit Mercy, fulfilling a promise he made to his mother after leaving school early to turn pro: that he would one day finish school.
Detroit Mercy athletic director Robert Vowels said Cureton was a nearly daily presence in Calihan Hall, even on days off. He was a regular at practice and was scheduled to co-host a Detroit Mercy night on Tuesday at Wayne State, where the NBA G League’s Motor City Cruise will host the Rip City Remix, for whom the former Titans star currently plays. Anthony Davis.
“What he means to the city and what he means to this program and what he means to the community is really sad,” Vowels said. “Earl is a true Detroit titan if there ever was one.
“He loves this school, he loves the people, he loves the community and he thrives because of it.
“That’s what got him out of bed every day.”
Following her playing days, Cureton worked as a coach in the WNBA, the United States Basketball League and the Continental Basketball Association. He also did some broadcast work for Bally Sports Detroit.
Cureton is survived by his wife Judith and daughter Sari, both of whom played basketball at Georgetown.
Funeral arrangements were pending Sunday.