After more than 40 years of bus trips, a little snow shower on Interstate 95 heading north to New Haven doesn't faze Red Klotz. He is on the edge of his seat, telling his companion about some of the natural disasters he has encountered during his 12 circumnavigations of the globe. He has survived three earthquakes, two floods, one avalanche and one appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show! "I'm definitely living on borrowed time," Klotz says.
Klotz has always considered himself the United States Basketball Ambassador to the World. Among the A-list dignitaries before whom Klotz has bowed in the name of goodwill are Queen Elizabeth II; popes Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II; Prince Rainier; Evita Perón; and Nikita Khrushchev. His favorite road story concerns his misadventures after a 1953 game in Syria. The tour was leaving for Istanbul, but the airplane was overweight, so Saperstein ordered Klotz, two Generals and two Trotters to get off. They had to drive 100 miles to Beirut to catch another flight...
"...so I get stopped at the Lebanese border," says Klotz, "and everybody is running around like crazy with machine guns, getting ready to go to war with Israel for the umpteenth time. I'm trying to identify myself by pretending to dribble and shoot, but the guards just keep looking at my visa list that has 42 names on it, and they want to know where we've buried the bodies of the other 37 guys. It didn't help much that the first two names on the list were Saperstein and Klotz...."
Just then, when it appears he might recount the ultimate loss, the storyteller pauses to point out a favorite landmark along the broad shoulders of the Connecticut Turnpike. Klotz will get you back to Lebanon eventually, but he wonders why you are so anxious because, after all, you both know the hero has lived to tell about it. And besides, if you look out to your right, there's a lovely view of Long Island Sound. Klotz is constantly staring out the window as he dispenses his life and times, and just at the point when he realizes he's losing his audience, he will punctuate an anecdote by saying, "True story," the way baseball clown Max Patkin always did.
You realize that Red Klotz's story is a lot like Patkin's, only with a happily-ever-after attached. Klotz is unaware of Patkin's pathos, so you tell him about how the Clown Prince of Baseball grew to resent the road, how he lost his wife and was driven to the brink of suicide, and Klotz shrugs and struggles to conjure up any angst of his own. You hate to do it, but you ask this father of six about all those Little League games he missed, those graduations, all the prom nights he heard about through a telephone receiver, and you expect maybe even some tears. You are incredulous to learn that Klotz doesn't look at his career as that much of a sacrifice. You are even more incredulous that his kids don't revile him or treat him like some sort of Daddy Dearest but instead revere him. But most of all you are incredulous that after all these years on the road, Klotz still looks out the window.
"He's been away all my life," says his daughter Jody, 40, his youngest child. "Still, somehow Dad was always there for us. He called home every night, and we never had to worry about someone coming between us, because when you love basketball as much as Dad does, there isn't room for anything else."
Says Red, "It's a cycle, just like a sea captain's. He loves his wife and kids and misses them, but when he gets home, before long he can't wait to get back out to sea. It's a sickness, but a beautiful one."
Loss No. 10,314: "We were playing in Peru, and the night before the game we were in a bar when a fight broke out and the army had to intervene to get us out of there. The next morning the headlines read: GLOBETROTTERS ATTACK PERUVIANS. So it was very tense before the game, and the fans actually booed the Trotters. But as the game began and the Trotters started their antics, the mood changed. By game's end it was all back to normal, the fans were booing us mercilessly...gosh, what a relief."
"I'm the greatest three-point shooter on the planet," says Klotz, as he buries treys during a shootaround before the start of the day's second game at the New Haven Coliseum. When he is presented with alternative suitors to that title, Klotz points to a similar shootaround in June '92 at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., when he sank 21 straight from behind the old NBA three-point arc. You wonder how he does it with that archaic two-handed style. Klotz attributes his skill to single-minded focus: "When I shoot the two-hander, I think I'm standing on an island and 10 million people all around me have disappeared."
It was this two-hander that often kept the Generals within shouting distance in games. Klotz, who scored as many as 37 points in a game, is still the most dangerous marksman the Generals have ever recruited. "If Red was coming out of school today, he would definitely play in the NBA because he's got one of the best three-point shots I've ever seen," says the Trotters' longtime funnyman Meadowlark Lemon. "He was tough in his day, even though he was this little midget among the giants. It was like David and Goliath, except David wasn't winning."