Titans, city mourn loss of local legend Earl Cureton

On campus in the 1970s, there would have been twice as many students, and you’d see a lot of things that didn’t linger in the university’s presence for much longer than the turn of the decade. 

This could have been anything from Detroit legend’s Terry Duerod and Dick Vitale elevating the basketball program to an all-time high, or even walking by campus’ own Geodesic Dome outside of the Life Sciences building. All three were gone by 1980, but a special holdover presence of that era never left, or at least it felt that way. That presence was Earl Cureton.  

Cureton, a 1976 graduate of Finney High School (about a 20-minute drive from campus), passed away unexpectedly on Feb. 4 in his Farmington Hills home. The tragic news rocked not only the basketball community but all of Detroit. 

 Cureton came to the University of Detroit in 1977 as a transfer after a successful freshman year at current Horizon League foe Robert Morris in Pittsburgh, Pa., in which he averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Colonials. Between his time at Finney and U of D, Earl shot up from 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-9, something that Detroit Head Coach Dick Vitale desperately wanted on Six and Liv.  Earl, who later became known as “The Twirl,” gave into the eccentric personality that is Dickie V, deciding to call Calihan Hall home for the rest of his college career.  

While Cureton never ended up suiting up for Vitale since he had to sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules before Vitale headed to coach the Pistons, he considered him a mentor, something that Vitale would have reciprocated, describing himself as “heartbroken” to The Detroit News after learning of his passing.  

Cureton averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds over his two seasons as a Titan, helped lead the team to a 36-19 record over that span, an NCAA tournament win and helped the team finish in the AP top 20, its last poll appearance to date. 

Cureton was picked in the third round by the Philadelphia 76ers, winning a championship there and with the Houston Rockets towards the end of his career, which spanned across eight NBA teams and five other pro leagues around the world. His professional career lasted 17 years, averaging 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in the NBA in 674 games played. Cureton also coached in the WNBA, and did color commentary for Detroit Mercy games on ESPN while also continuing to work with the Pistons as a community ambassador. He played for the Pistons from 1983-86.     

It would be a disservice to Earl to not list all his accomplishments on the court, but it would be a bigger disservice to not include what he did off the court. Cureton had a smile you could see from the Upper Peninsula, and he made it felt across the city that made him. Coach Mike Davis echoed this saying that the Cureton he knew, who had a tremendous basketball reputation with tons of stories, had an even bigger heart. Davis said that Cureton “gave all of his love to the city and was always doing good deeds around the community.”  

Davis who first met Cureton in 1989 playing in Italy, emphasized how rare it was for the school to have someone like this.  

“It’s very seldom that you find one person involved with the university, the Pistons and the community,” Davis said. “At maximum you get two, but he was all three and that’s why he’ll be missed so much.” 

Veteran Detroit Mercy guard Kyle LeGreair, who is also a Detroit native, exclaimed the most utmost respect for who he referred to as “Mr. Earl” saying that he was “more than an alumni.”  

“He took his time own time out to tell me what I needed to hear, and it was always from a place of love and compassion,” LeGreair said. “You don’t get guys around like that often and he will be missed.”  

Cureton was around the Titan program almost every day and interacted with many Titan players, something he loved, offering support whenever he could.  

Cureton is survived by his daughter Sari, wife Judith, and the rest of the Detroit Mercy community.