The team with the worst record in sports history is in mourning this week. On July 12, Washington Generals founder and owner Red Klotz passed away. Klotz’ Generals are the perennial foils for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Richard Goldstein wrote about Klotz and his team for the New York Times. Goldstein joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game.
BL: Red Klotz’ various teams lost over 14,000 games to the Globetrotters, but he claimed the Globetrotters never asked him to tank. Do you believe that?
RG: I’ll take him at his word that he was never asked specifically to lose a game. But the idea was that the Globetrotters were the show, and they were the opposition in order to create a game. The idea would be that the Generals would give them a good game. But as Red Klotz was saying, the first priority, he was quoted as telling Sports Illustrated, “I always tell my players their first priority is always the laughter, that they’re the straight men. Laurel had Hardy, Lewis had Martin, Costello had Abbott, the Trotters have us.
BL: We ought to give Red Klotz his due as an athlete. He was a guard on the 1948 Baltimore Bullets, who won the Basketball Association of America title, and the BAA was the precursor to the NBA. How did Klotz the athlete become Klotz the executive?
The way the story is related is that Abe Saperstein, the founder and owner of [the Globetrotters], asked Klotz if he would like to create a team of players to provide opposition for the Globetrotters. And that’s what he did, in late 1952, named the team the Washington Generals for Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was being elected to his first term as president. By the best estimate, they’ve lost to the Globetrotters more than 14,000 times, which I guess would qualify as the worst record in sports history.
BL: The team that Klotz formed at Abe Saperstein’s request did beat the Globetrotters once, legitimately, on January 5, 1971. What happened?
RG: The idea was to give the Globetrotters a reasonably close game. I think what happened on this occasion is things just got away from the Globetrotters, and the Jersey Reds – a.k.a. Generals – were having a hot shooting night, and it came down to the last few seconds. Red Klotz actually got the game-winning shot. He was a perfect two-handed set shot player. He hit a set shot from about 20 feet out with a few seconds to go, giving the Reds the victory.
[Globetrotter] Meadowlark Lemon then tried to hit a shot after that, it missed, and they came away with the victory. My understanding is the crowd was stunned and there was even some booing after the game because they certainly expected the Globetrotters to win.
BL: As you write in your story, Klotz played against the Globetrotters into his 60s and, as you mentioned, pickup games into his 80s. This guy was the ultimate basketball man, wasn’t he?
RG: Yeah. Basketball was his life, and he enjoyed providing entertainment, and it was a business as well. It’s interesting, the team is a separate entity from the Globetrotters. The team is owned by Red Klotz Sports Enterprises. It’s a privately held family company. So they’re together and yet they’re apart in terms of their ownership.
The team is going to continue to tour with the Globetrotters. They’re called the “World All Stars” as we speak. They’re gonna play again with China late in July, and then they’re going to continue with a new national and international tour. Their name for the next few months has not been decided.
BL: On Monday, Globetrotters chief executive Kurt Schneider issued a statement that Klotz was “as much a part of the Globetrotters legacy as anyone ever associated with the organization.” And that’s true, right? Because without another team on the floor, the Globetrotters can’t do what they do so well.
RG: That’s true. I mean, a lot of people would not know his name, but he just helped make the thing go. And incidentally, the Globetrotters – he wore #3 in high school, college, and when he played for the Generals – had a ceremony when they played a game in Philadelphia in 2011, where they retired Klotz’s #3, and he is the only non-Globetrotter to have the Globetrotter organization retire a number. He joins well-known figures [like] Marques Haynes, Curly Neal, Goose Tatum, Meadowlark Lemon, and even Wilt Chamberlain.
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