Posted: Thursday March 16, 2006 12:17PM; Updated: Thursday March 16, 2006 1:38PM
He's saying this under the stands of the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, where the Nationals will shortly drop both ends of a doubleheader, 65-40 and 57-44. He still looks fit enough to sink a half-court hook. "Believe it or not, I could play four or five minutes every night," Klotz says. "I've lost my fast break, but not my touch." Indeed, four months ago at the community center near his home in Margate, N.J., he made 36 college three-pointers in a row. "With witnesses!" he says. "If I went out on the court with the Nationals now, it would be a little embarrassing. Not embarrassing for me. Embarrassing for the Globetrotters trying to guard me."
Klotz is cheerful, convivial and excellent company. He only gets irritable when someone calls his players "patsies" or "stooges". They may be eminently vincible, he says, but they don't just lie down and die. "We start every game thinking we're going to win," he says. "We play our best and keep it as close as we can. We never try to lose. It just works out that we do."
To change his luck, he renamed his franchise the New York Nationals in 1997. "With the record we had up to that point," he says, "it was good to change everything." For fans who expect nothing less than perfection, the Nationals always come through. One of their players reckons they must be about 0 and 1,682 by now. "I thought it was a little better than that," says Klotz.
He hasn't really been associated with a winner since 1948, the year he played 11 games as a reserve for the Baltimore Bullets and won an NBA title. After that championship season he coached the Bullets' All-American League farm team in Cumberland, Md. Klotz's boys took the Globetrotters into overtime and impressed owner Abe Saperstein. The next year Klotz managed the Philadelphia SPHAs and beat the Trotters in consecutive games -- one a 25-point blowout. In 1953 Saperstein asked him to form a permanent opposition team. It's been Harlem's foil ever since.
Klotz has beaten the Globetrotters six times in his 53 seasons; the last was 35 years ago, in Martin, Tenn. He sank the buzzer-beater to give the New Jersey Reds a 100-99 victory -- the lone blemish in the Trotters' 434-1 campaign. Klotz savors the memory as if it were a Proustian madeleine.
"The crowd wanted to kill me," he says. "We got booed for 15 minutes. It was like killing Santa, but I loved it. That win ended our losing streak at 10." Ten years, that is.
Klotz's teammates carried him off the floor on their shoulders and poured orange soda over his head in the locker room. When you haven't won in a decade, you don't have a case of champagne at the ready.
Could it happen again? "Sure it could," Klotz says. "At least I hope it could. Everybody wins sometime. It's just taking my team a little longer than most."