Klotz leads his team out to the Garden floor, and despite a barrage of advice from him, the Generals are thrashed soundly. Kurisko does not get hit by the ball in the Figure Eight, but he does laugh out loud when a Trotter gooses Hepinger. Rookie mistake.
As the game gets ugly, Gloria Klotz, who sits on the team bench clad in mink coat, fedora and cowboy boots, starts to jot down answers in a book of crossword puzzles that she keeps carefully concealed beneath her scorebook. Gloria has been Red's wife for the last 53 years and his scorekeeper for the last 10, and it is generally understood that when she says something like "Anybody got a five-letter word for long-snouted omnivore?" the Generals have officially folded their tents for the night. The final score is Globetrotters 68, Generals 56. Though the Generals flew in from Boston through a blizzard the previous night and arrived at their hotel in Secaucus, N.J., at 3:30 a.m., they still face another bus ride and another loss, uh, game that evening.
Loss No. 3,456: "We were playing in a leper colony somewhere in the middle of the Philippine jungle, and all that separated us from the fans was a chicken-wire fence. I remember I could hardly dribble for fear that I would start itching and a limb would drop off right there on the court. "
Louis Klotz met Gloria Stein one sunny day in 1934 on the beach in her hometown of Atlantic City. Louis was 14, Gloria 12. Back in South Philadelphia where Red lived, he played hoops because he had to. "Where I was raised, you either earned a scholarship to college or became a gangster," he says.
Louis's parents, Robert and Lena, didn't approve of their youngest son playing basketball, fearing that a nearsighted 5'7", 140-pound kid could only get hurt. So Louis would drop his gym bag out of his bedroom window, walk out the back door, then change his clothes in the back of the trolley car. He fine-tuned his classic two-handed set shot by launching it through the rafters of St. Martha's church on Eighth Street and honed his ball handling on the playgrounds of hardscrabble South Philly, where he earned the nickname Reds (later shortened to Red) because of his tangerine-colored locks. While leading Southern High to city championships in 1939 and '40, Klotz was twice voted Philadelphia's player of the year.
His local fame earned him a scholarship to Villanova, where he played for two years until it was discovered that he and Gloria had eloped during his freshman year. School regulations dictated that the marriage cost him his financial aid. By that time World War II was raging anyway, and most of Villanova's team had enlisted. Red, whose eyes were so bad that he couldn't have spotted Mussolini if he had been standing beside him, was tapped for the Signal Corps. His roommate and best friend at Villanova, Chuck Drizen, entered the Marines and in a prescient letter to Klotz in 1944 he wrote, "Reds, you're going to go very far with basketball." It was the last letter Klotz would receive from Drizen, who was killed at Iwo Jima.
After the war Red joined the Philadelphia SPHAs (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) of the American Basketball League, a predecessor of the NBA. He played two seasons for the SPHAs before hooking up with the NBA's Baltimore Bullets midway through the 1947-48 season. He played in 11 games (averaging 1.4 points) for the Bullets, who went on to defeat the Philadelphia Warriors in six games In win the NBA title. "It was a thrill to be a champion," says Klotz, who earned $100 a game and received a $1,750 title share. "But in the off-season we all wanted raises, so they canned us."
Klotz eventually returned to the SPHAs, who in 1949 were hired to play a two-week exhibition series against Abe Saperstein's barnstorming team, the Harlem Globetrotters. One evening, playing on the dance floor of Philadelphia's Broadwood Hotel, Klotz's SPHAs upset the Globetrotters by 25 points. After the game Trotter Goose Tatum approached Klotz, waving a finger in his face. "That'll never happen again," said Tatum. Klotz responded, "Why not?" Sure enough, the next night the SPHAs beat the Trotters in Syracuse by 12.
Saperstein was so impressed that he offered Klotz the opportunity to form a team to be the regular opponent of his Trotters. In 1953 Klotz received a $1,500 loan from Saperstein, and he and his squad drove from town to town, all eight of them crammed into a beat-up green DeSoto. The owner named his new team the Washington Generals. "Ike had just thumped Adlai Stevenson, and generals were pretty popular at that time," says Klotz. "I thought the name might win us some fans."
Loss No. 6,787: "We were playing a game outdoors in Germany, and it had rained quite a bit recently. The court was a quagmire, so they brought in hundreds of beer kegs and laid out plywood on top of the kegs. Sure enough, it poured again on game day, and it was so slippery that my players kept skidding right off the end of the court into a giant mud puddle. The fans loved it. They thought it was part of the act."