Two-time NBA champion Earl 'The Twirl' Cureton dies at 66

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Monday, February 5, 2024

DETROIT -- Earl "The Twirl" Cureton, who won two NBA championships in 12 seasons in the league, has died. He was 66.

Cureton, who served as a community ambassador for the Detroit Pistons for the past 10 years, died "unexpectedly" Sunday morning, according to a release from the Pistons. No other information was provided by the team.

"Earl was one of the most generous, positive and caring people I knew," Pistons owner Tom Gores said. "He was a loving father, devoted to his family, and I was honored to be his friend. He was a champion as a player and an important ambassador in our community. We are heartbroken over his loss."

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. He averaged 20 points and 9.1 rebounds during the 1979-80 season and is a member of the school's athletic Hall of Fame.

"I am heartbroken," Vitale said in a text message to The Detroit News on Sunday. "He loved the Motor City and was so proud of working so hard to make it to the NBA.

"And Earl was always trying to inspire young people to chase their dreams."

The Detroit native was selected by Philadelphiain the third round of the 1979 NBA draft.

Cureton averaged 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds in 674 NBA games. He played for Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, the LA Clippers, Charlotte, Houstonand 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."

Portland Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups took the news of his former teammate's death hard.

"He was just a beautiful dude," Billups said before the Trail Blazers' game in Denver on Sunday night. "I spent a lot of time with him in Detroit, obviously. Just a big teddy bear. Always so fun. He had one of those infectious laughs where whenever he laughed he made everybody laugh. Never had a bad day, ever. I marvel at guys like that, people like that. The world can be really rough and tough and they never see it that way, you know? And I loved that about him. Every time I'd go to Detroit, I'd give him a big hug. So, that was tough news today."

The Associated Press and Field Level Media contributed to this report.