Detroit Mercy Basketball Community mourns loss of Titan Hall of Famer and City Ambassador Earl Cureton at 66

By Brenda June Temple

Earl Cureton (courtesy Detroit Mercy Athletics)

2 4 2024


DETROIT (2/4/2024) — It is with heavy hearts that the University of Detroit Mercy received word that Titan Hall-Of-Famer, NBA champion and Detroit ambassador Earl “The Twirl” Cureton ’11 suddenly passed away on Sunday at the age of 66.

“I was extremely saddened to hear about the loss of Earl Cureton,” said Director of Athletics Robert C. Vowels, Jr.. “We were all completely in shock. The Titans lost one of their legendary players, and what made Earl special was his commitment on and off the court. His career speaks for itself as a player at U-D, helping us get to the NCAA Tournament, and in the NBA, where he won multiple titles. But he was an even better person off the court and in the community. He always remembered where he came from and was willing to give back. He will be missed not only by the Titans and Pistons, but by the city of Detroit.”

A 12-year NBA veteran and a two-time NBA champion, Cureton suited up for the Titans from 1977-80, playing two seasons after sitting out following his transfer from Robert Morris, a junior college transitioning to DI. He would later be inducted into both school’s Hall of Fame.

“It breaks my heart to hear about the passing of Earl,” said Dick Vitale on social media. Vitale recruited Cureton to play at the University and would eventually give him the nickname “The Twirl”.

Cureton helped U-D get back to the NCAA Tournament in his first year as the Titans went 22-6, capturing wins over Oregon, Georgetown and Marquette before coming back to lead another winning season with 14 victories in his senior campaign.

He averaged 11.7 points and a team-high 9.0 rebounds with 1.3 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals per game in 1978-79 and then topped the team in scoring (20.0) and rebounding (9.1) to go with 1.6 assists, and 1.7 blocks and steals in 1979-80. He is still 12th all-time in school history in career blocks with 79 – second when he graduated – and was inducted into the Titan Hall of Fame in 2007 and had his famed No. 24 jersey retired by UDM on Jan. 23, 2020.

“Earl was more than just a teammate, he was our brother,” said former teammate Terry Tyler. “He was a hard worker. He did great at Robert Morris and U-D and got himself drafted by Philadephia. He worked so hard, kept himself in great shape, and played a long time in the NBA, winning two rings. He was a great guy, and I am honored to say that I was his teammate and brother. I am going to miss him, all of us are going to miss him.”

In his first year, as a Titan, he recorded 13 double-figure rebound games and 16 double-digit scoring contests with a magnificent night against St. Bonaventure, where he posted 32 points and 23 rebounds.

As a senior, he was the Robert Calihan Team MVP award winner and was Honorable Mention All-Midwest by The Midwest Basketball News and The Sporting News and had another monster game on his resume with 32 points and 20 boards against Oral Roberts.

“One of the best players I have ever played with,” said former teammate Jerry Davis. “But he was more of my brother than a teammate. So kindhearted and always willing to do for others, such a great role model for all the kids, all the Detroit kids. He helped get me to U-D instead of going to Houston. I  still talk to him about once a month, and we always stayed in touch. He was my big brother, he cared about everyone. I still can’t believe this.”

“As a competitor, he was one of the best I have ever known,” said former teammate Jeff Whitlow. “He was very competitive and very passionate. But his character is the best thing about him. I was from Georgia and over winter break, he would invite me over to his house and his mom would cook us dinner and we would hang out. Some nights, I was in the dorms, homesick and he would invite me over to his house and just be there for me. Even now, you look at his role with the Pistons and what he did for the community. He is such a caring guy.”

A Detroit native and graduate of Finney High School, Cureton had served as the analyst for Titan games for over 15 years. In addition to his broadcasting duties, Cureton served as the Detroit Pistons’ community ambassador, where he works to raise awareness for Come Together programs and NBA League-sponsored programs.

“I have a different experience with him than others because I have known Earl since he was about 11 years old,” said former teammate Wilbert McCormick. “We played on a Detroit Youth team together and played against each other in high school. I was a groomsman at his wedding. He was always a hard worker and a fun-loving guy who would give you his shirt off his back. Even after college, we played against each other but were always friends and stayed friends. He loved U-D and always tried to promote the University, and we are all going to miss him.”

Prior to joining the Pistons community efforts, Cureton spent five seasons as a WNBA assistant coach with the Phoenix Mercury (2012-13), Charlotte Sting (2005-06) and Detroit Shock in 2009 along with coaching in the United States Basketball League and Continental Basketball Association.

Drafted by Philadelphia with the 58th pick in the 1979 NBA Draft, Cureton began his professional career in the 1980-1981 season as the 76ers advanced to the NBA Finals during his rookie season. They would later breakthrough to win the 1983 title and he was also part of the Houston Rockets championship team in 1994.

In his 12 years in the NBA, he played for seven playoff teams, including three years in the mid-1980s with the hometown Pistons, and averaged 5.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game over the course of 674 regular-season contests. He scored a career-high 25 points with 14 rebounds off the bench in a 129-113 Pistons win over the Nuggets on Jan. 17, 1986, and posted a career-best 18 boards as a member of the Clippers against the Rockets on Apr. 7, 1987.

“All of us are hurting with the unexpected loss of Earl Cureton,” said former Pistons’ teammate Isiah Thomas.”  “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.”

In 2011, Cureton made national headlines, earning his degree from Detroit Mercy as a way to honor his mother as a promise he made to her to graduate college.

The last game he called for television for the Titans was Detroit Mercy and Robert Morris yesterday, where he is in both schools’ Hall of Fame.

He is survived by wife, Judith and daughter, Sari, who played basketball at Georgetown.

A Celebration of his life will be held on, Saturday, February 10, at 1:00 p.m. at St. Cecilia’s Church (10400 Stoepel St., Detroit, MI 48204).

In lieu of flowers, it is suggested that those who wish to further honor the memory of Earl Cureton may do so by making a contribution to the restoration of Ceciliaville Gym by clicking here. 

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