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NBA champion Earl Cureton dead at 66

Earl Cureton, a former NBA big man who played 12 seasons in the league and won two championships, has died, the Detroit Pistons announced Sunday. He was 66.

The Philadelphia 76ers selected Cureton in the second round of the 1979 NBA Draft after a standout collegiate career with Robert Morris and Detroit Mercy. He won a championship with the 76ers during the 1982-83 season and later won with the Houston Rockets in 1994.

He played for the Pistons from 1983 to 1986.

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Earl Cureton in February

Earl Cureton, Pistons ambassador to the community, during a game on Feb. 2, 2020, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

“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,” Pistons chairman Tom Gores said in a statement. “As tough a competitor as he was during his playing years on the court, he was equally kindhearted, 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.”

Cureton also played for the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors. He played abroad in Italy, France, Venezuela, Mexico and Argentina.

Earl Cureton with the Rockets

Earl Cureton of the Rockets during Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Phoenix Suns on May 21, 1994, in Houston. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

“All of us are hurting with the unexpected loss of Earl Cureton,” Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thoms said. “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.”

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Cureton also coached in the NBA, the United Basketball League and the Continental Basketball Association.

Chauncey Billups, the current Portland Trail Blazers head coach, talked about the death of his former teammate.

Earl Cureton dunks

Earl Cureton of the Detroit Pistons goes in for a slam dunk against the Washington Bullets, circa 1985, at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

“He was just a beautiful dude,” he said before the team’s game against the Denver Nuggets. “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.

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“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 contributed to this report.

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