The Harlem Globetrotters established themselves as one of the best basketball teams on the planet during their first two decades of existence, including consecutive wins over the NBA Champion Minneapolis Lakers in 1948 and 1949.
In 1952, Globetrotters founder and owner Abe Saperstein was looking for someone to put together a team of exceptional basketball players that would compete daily against the Globetrotters as they entertained fans around the world. He turned to Louis “Red” Klotz.
Klotz was a standout player at the professional, collegiate and high school level in his native Philadelphia. He won two city titles and two Philadelphia Player of the Year awards at South Philadelphia High School before playing collegiately at Villanova. He then played professionally for the Philadelphia SPHAS of the American Basketball League before joining the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets midway through the 1947-48 season, a season in which Klotz and the Bullets went on to defeat the Philadelphia Warriors to win the NBA title.
Klotz took Saperstein up on his offer and for over six decades put together a team to face the Globetrotters for more than 400 games a year. As an Army veteran, Klotz named the team the Washington Generals in honor of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had just been elected President of the United States. The franchise has been known by several other names, including the Boston Shamrocks, New Jersey Reds, New York Nationals, International Elite, Global Select and World All-Stars, but the Washington Generals will forever be the franchise’s most famous moniker.
Klotz used to say that the Generals were the Ginger Rogers to the Globetrotters’ Fred Astaire… always dancing backwards. The Generals franchise has lost well over 17,000 games to the Globetrotters but has not been without its triumphs. They defeated the Globetrotters in 1954 and 1958, and on Jan. 5, 1971, thanks to a last-second basket by Klotz – then a 50-year-old player/coach – the New Jersey Reds beat the Globetrotters 100-99 in Martin, Tennessee. The game snapped a 2,495-game winning streak for the Globetrotters… and was the last time the Washington Generals franchise tasted victory over their famed nemisis.
Sadly, Klotz passed away on July 14, 2014, at the age of 93, but his legacy lives on as the Washington Generals continue to do battle with the Globetrotters.