Dancing Backwards

Louis "Red" Klotz, 2011(photo credit:  Chris Polk/Associated Press)

Louis “Red” Klotz, 2011
(photo credit: Chris Polk/Associated Press)

When her husband called in from the road, Gloria Klotz never had to ask, “Did you win?”  That’s because Louis “Red” Klotz played (and later coached) for the Washington Generals, the perpetual opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters.

At the invitation of Globetrotters’ owner Abe Saperstein, Klotz founded the Generals in 1952; he was the point guard until 1984 when, at age 62, he gave up his playing career.  He coached for a couple of more decades, and still makes an occasional appearance on the bench.  Over all those years, the one constant is that the Globetrotters always win.  Well, not always — in almost 20,000 games, the Generals have won twice.

The last time was on January 5, 1971, in Martin, Tennessee, on a night when the Globetrotters’ entertaining antics went on longer than usual, and their opponents played efficient, workmanlike basketball.  The Globetrotters put on a burst at the end, but with seconds to play, Red Klotz hit a long shot to give his team a 100-99 win.  The spectators booed.

Technically it wasn’t a victory for the Washington Generals, by the way.  Over the years, Klotz experimented with name changes, so on that historic night, the Generals were performing as the New Jersey Reds.

The Globetrotters’ epic win streak, and Generals’ matching losing streak, is not necessarily due to a huge difference in skill.  There have been individuals from both teams who have spent time in the NBA, including the 5’7″ Red Klotz, who played briefly for the Baltimore Bullets.  There were also several Generals players who later jumped to the Globetrotters.

I don’t think it’s revealing a secret to say that the Globetrotters/Generals performances are really exhibitions, not games.  Not every last detail is scripted — the final score varies — but let’s say that the general outline remains the same from one night to the next.

The Generals aren’t as dim as they are made to look, or Red Klotz would have been justified in yelling during timeouts, “Dadgummit, that’s the 200th night in a row that they’ve pulled Henderson’s shorts down to his ankles.  Would somebody please watch his backside?  And Boyd — how many times are you going to let them dribble the ball off your forehead!?”

The current roster of the Generals has guys who were solid (if not spectacular) players at schools like Kutztown U., Voorhees College, and Robert Morris University.  And if you personally feel you have some unfinished basketball business and don’t mind being away from home for months at a time, the Generals are currently looking for recruits.

“An ideal prospect,” says the team’s website, “can strike a balance between sports and entertainment.”  It also notes that “The Generals serve an important role in the Globetrotters tours and realize the final score does not always define winners.”

Another way to express that notion is how Red Klotz once described his career.  “Like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the Harlem Globetrotters have always had a dance partner,” Red said, “but I’ve always been dancing backwards.”

4 responses to “Dancing Backwards

  1. What a terrific idea for a blog post – fascinating! I’m Red’s newest fan.

    • I got to see Red Klotz play in person — he was a youngster in 1958, a mere 37 years old.

      During that season, the Globetrotters had the services of the legendary Wilt Chamberlain, who had left Kansas after his junior year. Back then, a player’s college eligibility had to be used up before he could enter the NBA.

      I don’t remember how Red did that night, but my brother and I hung around after the game to try to get Wilt Chamberlain’s autograph. When Wilt finally came out of the locker room, I held out a game program and a pen. Chamberlain brushed me aside and gruffly said, “Watch yourself, kid.”

      Something tells me I should have gone for Red Klotz’s autograph instead.

  2. Postscript: On July 12, 2014, Red Klotz died in his sleep. He was 93 years old.

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