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.
Obit of the Day: The 1st Black Woman to Win Gold at the Olympics
Alice Coachman stood alone atop the podium at the 1948 London Olympics. The 24-year-old form Albany, Georgia had won the women’s high jump, clearing 5’ 6 1/8” (1.68 m) on the bar, a new Olympic record. This made her the only woman on the U.S. track and field team to medal, and more importantly, the first black woman to win gold in Olympic history.
Ms. Coachman* was the greatest high jumper of her time but 1948 was her only Olympic appearance because of the cancellation of the previous two games due to World War II. Ms. Coachman won ten straight AAU high jump titles (1939-1948) - the first when she was only 15. She also won five straight AAU 50 meter outdoor sprints from 1943 to 1947 and was a national champion in the 100 meter sprint and 4 x 100m relay.
Growing up in rural Georgia, Ms. Coachman was always attracted to athletic pursuits, something her father disliked intensely. She told of receiving beatings when he caught her running and jumping like a boy around town. But she continued to train and found support from her fifth grade teacher, Cora Bailey and her aunt, Carrie Spry. She eventually enrolled at Tuskegee University where she became a national track and field star.
Following the Olympics, Ms. Coachman was appropriately lauded as a champion. She joined other Olympians meeting President Truman at the White House, and legendary musician Count Basie threw her a party. Her hometown of Albany held a ceremony and parade for her. But as a black woman in the South she couldn’t escape the segregation that permeated the culture: the mayor of Albany would not shake her hand and she was not allowed to enter or exit through the front door of the auditorium.
She earned a teaching degree from Albany State College, where she transferred after the Olympic games. Ms. Coachman taught elementary and high school students while continuing to encourage young men and women to pursue athletics. She founded the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation which provides financial assistance to young Olympic hopefuls as well as Olympic veterans.
In 1952, Ms. Coachman was offered an endorsement deal from Coca-Cola. When she accepted she became the first black woman paid to advertise a national product.
Ms. Coachman is still honored annually with the Alice Coachman Track Invitational held at Albany State, established in 1992. She is a member of nine halls of fame including the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame (1975) and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame (2004). Her hometown also named an elementary school in her honor.
Alice Coachman, who was the subject of a 2012 children’s book titled Touch the Sky, died on July 14, 2014 at the age of 90.
* Ms. Coachman married twice, both times to men with the surname Daivs, but in all articles she was referred to by her maiden name, so I have chosen to do the same.
(Image of the 1948 Olympics high jump medal ceremony with Alice Coachman winning gold, Dorothy Tyler of Great Britain taking silver, and Micheline Ostermeyer earning bronze. It is courtesy of www.filmsnotdead.com)’
Other 1948 Olympians featured on Obit of the Day:
Ann Curtis - U.S. swimmer who won two gold medals at the games
Moose Thompson - Gold medal-winning shot putter
Walter Walsh - Member of the U.S. pistol team, also the oldest living Marine and FBI agent
and one pioneer…
Halet Cambel - The 1st Muslim woman to compete at the Olympics (1936)
July 16, 1999 John F. Kennedy Jr. died when the Piper Saratoga light aircraft crashed into the Atlantic off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. His wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren also parished in the crashed. They were all buried at sea.