The Generals were formed in 1952 by Louis “Red” Klotz, who served as owner, player and coach, when Globetrotters’ owner Abe Saperstein invited Klotz to form a squad to accompany his team on their tours. With a nod to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Atlantic City–based Washington Generals were born. The Generals evolved from the Philadelphia Sphas, a team that dates back to the 1920s and was sold in 1950 to Klotz, who played for the team in the 1940s.
The Generals provided deliberately ineffective opposition as a foil for the Globetrotters’ comedy routines. The Globetrotters’ acts often featured incredible coordination and skillful handling of one or more basketballs, such as passing or juggling balls between players, balancing or spinning balls on their fingertips, and making unusual, difficult shots. The Generals on the other hand would try to play a game of “serious” basketball in return.
During the 1971-72 season, the Generals’ name was alternated with the Boston Shamrocks, New Jersey Reds, Baltimore Rockets, and Atlantic City Seagulls. It was actually the same team of players but they would change uniforms between games to give the appearance of more teams. The team would rotate between these identities for a few seasons before going back to the Generals identity full-time.
From 1953 until 1995, the Generals played exhibitions against the Globetrotters, winning only six games, the last in 1971, and losing more than 13,000. It was as the New Jersey Reds that the Generals’ last win came in a game against the Globetrotters. On January 5, 1971, the Globetrotters lost a game in Martin, Tennessee in overtime to the Reds. It was Klotz himself who sank the winning basket for a 100-99 score that ended the Globetrotters’ 2,499-game winning streak.
Klotz eventually “disbanded” the Generals in 1995, forming a new team, the New York Nationals, which also has achieved an impressive losing streak. In reality, of course, it was the same team; Klotz merely retired the Washington Generals identity. The Nationals remain a separate organization from the Globetrotters. Harlem claims its exhibition games are “real” and “competitive” contests.