(JTA) — Louis “Red” Klotz, the driving force behind the team that served as the foil for the Harlem Globetrotters, has died.
Klotz, who with his Globetrotters counterpart, Abe Saperstein, formed a Jewish-run traveling basketball show that has traveled around the world for more than six decades, died Saturday at his home in Margate, N.J. He was 93, and had suffered several strokes the past two years.
He was the founder, owner and coach of the squad best known as the Washington Generals, which has squared off against the Globetrotters in over 100 countries dating back to 1952. The 5-foot-7 Klotz, a standout in college and professionally in the NBA’s forerunner league, also played for the Generals and often was the victim of the Globetrotters renowned hijinks.
Their games, at least in theory, were meant to be competitive — as competitive as a team (Klotz’s) that goes 1-14,000 against an opponent can be. The Generals’ sole victory, in 1971 in Tennessee, was documented and a source of pride for Klotz, although he maintained that an earlier win went unrecorded due to a scoreboard operator’s error.
The Globetrotters “had to play somebody,” Klotz’s biographer, Tim Kelly, told JTA this week.
The teams were independent organizations that traveled and practiced separately, he said.
“You’ve got a 5-7 guy, the son of Jewish immigrants, playing in front of the shah of Iran, three popes, at the bottom of a drained pool and in bull rings,” said Kelly, whose biography, titled “The Legend of Red Klotz: How Basketball’s Loss Leader Won Over the World – 14,000 Times,” was published last year. To the end, he added, Klotz “was very, very aware of [the Generals’] role as ambassadors.”
A star point guard at South Philadelphia High School and Villanova University, Klotz joined the largely Jewish professional club known as the SPHAs (for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association), which was owned and coached by fellow SPHS alumnus Eddie Gottlieb.
Klotz would go on to play for the Baltimore Bullets when it won the 1948-49 championship of the Basketball Association of America, defeating Gottlieb’s Philadelphia Warriors. A few months later, the league merged into what is now the National Basketball Association.
Klotz served as a player-coach the next season for the Cumberland (Md.) Dukes of the All-American Professional Basketball League. Dukes management scheduled an exhibition game against the Globetrotters.
“The Trotters expected to come in there and walk all over us,” Klotz said in the Kelly book. “I told our guys to make them respect you, and they responded.”
Cumberland took the Globetrotters to overtime before losing, but Saperstein was impressed. He invited Klotz to join a traveling team playing against the Globetrotters on an exhibition tour of Latin America. That eventually led to Klotz’s founding of his team.