Obit of the Day: 6 Wins, 15,000 Losses
The last time the Harlem Globetrotters lost a basketball game, Richard Nixon was in the White House. It was January 25, 1971 and the seconds were winding down. Red Klotz, a 50-year-old former NBA veteran, sank a two-handed 20-foot jump shot to put his team, the New Jersey Reds, up 100-99. After Globetrotter legend Medowlark Lemon missed his final shot, the upset was clinched. Mr. Klotz and his teammates celebrated by pouring orange soda on their heads.
The crowd wasn’t as elated, having come to see the Globetrotters win. “You’d have thought we killed Santa,” Klotz later told people.
The wins for Mr. Klotz and his team, best known as the Washington Generals, were few and far between. According to Mr. Klotz’s biographer, from the team’s founding in 1952 until today, the Generals have won six games and lost 15,000 against the Globetrotters. Which is what is supposed to happen.
Abe Saperstein who founded the Harlem Globetrotters (in Chicago, oddly enough) wanted a guaranteed opponent as his team traveled the world mixing comedy, ball tricks, and basketball fundamentals. He asked Mr. Klotz who had played against the Globetrotters as a member of the Philadelphia Sphas*. Mr. Klotz agreed and created the Washington Generals. He selected Washington, D.C. as the home town because the nation’s capital had no NBA franchise at the time, and “Generals” honored then-president Dwight Eisenhower.
Mr. Klotz, who played and coached the team into his 60s, traveled the world with the Generals (who also played as the Shamrocks, Reds, Seagulls, and All-Stars). The played at a leper colony in the Philippines, aboard an aircraft carrier in the Middle East, and on a plywood court supported by hundreds of beer bottles in Berlin. The teams played in more than 100 countries during Mr. Klotz’s tenure.
Mr. Klotz knew his team’s role, but took it very seriously. In his youth he had won two Philadelphia city championships as a high schooler and during his one season on the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets^, he won the league championship. (To be fair, Mr. Klotz’s .226 shooting percentange and his .333 free throw percentage were not major contributors to the Bullets’ success.)
Nonetheless, Mr. Klotz insisted that his Generals never purposely lost a a game to the Globetrotters. He ran practices that focused on fundamentals and they worked on ball possession - but you can only do so much when then opposing team pulls down your pants and throws confetti in your face.
Mr. Klotz retired from coaching in 1995, but his family continues to own the team. The Harlem Globetrotters retired Mr. Klotz’s number 3 when he left the bench, the only non-Globtrotter to be so honored.
Herman “Red” Klotz, at 5’ 7” the shortest NBA player to ever play on a championship team, died on July 12, 2014 at the age of 93.
(Undated image, likely the late 1950s/early 1960s, of player/coach/owner Herman “Red” Klotz, left, and his Washington Generals is courtest of FOXSports.com)
* “Sphas” was actually an acronym for South Philadelphia Hebrew Association.
^ The Bullets eventually moved to Washington, D.C. and are now the Wizards.