Detroit Finney Graduate, Former NBA Player Earl Cureton Dies Unexpectedly at 66 Years Old

Earl Cureton, former Pistons player and community ambassador with the organization for the last 10 years, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 66 after collapsing in his home this morning, Feb. 4, 2024.

The beloved Detroit native and Finney High School graduate was a 12-year NBA veteran. He was originally drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 58th overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft. Known as “The Twirl”, the 6-9 forward was a part of two NBA championships teams, the 76ers in 1982-83 and the Houston Rockets in 1993-94. Cureton also played three seasons with the Detroit Pistons (1983-86, where he averaged 5.9 points in 234 games) and spent time with the Chicago Bulls, LA Clippers, Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors.

Cureton’s most successful individual NBA season was his 1985-86 campaign and his final year with the Pistons. That year, he averaged 8.6 points on 51% shooting, with 6.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and just under one block and steal per game over 80 games.

Former Pistons player and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas said in a statement, “All of us are hurting with the unexpected loss of Earl Cureton. He was a tremendous teammate, 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. He will be greatly missed.”

Cureton spoke with Michigan Chronicle just before a Pistons home game against the LA Clippers on Friday, Feb. 2, ahead of a scheduled sit-down interview to discuss his new book, Earl the Twirl: My Life in Basketball, which he released on Dec. 25, 2023.

“The Chronicle has a special place in my heart,” Cureton said. “Sam Logan, the publisher, was my first cousin and I was 15 years old the first time I had my picture in the paper. But I’m looking forward to talking with the Chronicle about the book. For now, let me go do this game,” he said.

Thomas, along with Hall of Fame NBA Player Julius Erving wrote the foreword for Cureton’s recently released book.

A basketball journeyman, Cureton made coaching stops in the NBA, United States Basketball League and Continental Basketball Association following his retirement from the NBA in 1997. He was also an assistant coach with the ABA’s Long Beach Jam in 2004, alongside coaching legend Paul Westhead. When Westhead left to become an assistant for the Orlando Magic, Cureton took over as head coach and led the Jam to an ABA Championship.

Cureton played collegiately at Division I Robert Morris University before transferring to University of Detroit Mercy for his final two seasons under head coach Dick Vitale. His number 24 was retired by U of D on Jan. 23, 2020. Fulfilling a life-long dream 30 years later, Cureton went back to U of D and earned his college degree in Human Services and was awarded his Bachelor of Science in 2011.

During this afternoon’s Pistons game versus the Orlando Magic, the Pistons organization released the following statement: “The Detroit Pistons organization is deeply saddened by the passing of Earl Cureton, a person who meant so much to the organization as a colleague, former player, community ambassador, and friend.

“As tough a competitor as he was during his playing years on the court, he was equally kind-hearted, outgoing and impactful off it. He represented our franchise with great passion and truly enjoyed working to give back and improve the lives of Detroiters in the city he loved so much. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Earl’s family and countless friends and teammates during this most difficult time.”

Pistons Owner Tom Gores also released a statement, saying “Earl was one of the most generous, positive and caring people I knew. 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 beloved Cureton found a perfect fit in his post-NBA career as a community relations leader for the Pistons, as he was always eager to give back to his hometown, and he made a concerted effort to volunteer his time and resources to the community.

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