Sunday, 27 July 2014


My obituary of Red Klotz appeared in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, you can link to it here. Oddly enough, I had sold it to the editor based on my lede, which the subs then edited out.  There were a few other small changes, like 'second bananas' became 'fall guys' and of course excisions: they were hugely skeptical of the figure of 14,000 losses even after I explained the Globetrotters' traveling schedule, and in the end they left that out.And there was one large change that rankled: someone added the line 'But the scorecard of Fate could not be fooled' at the end of the second graf, which might suit EW Swanton writing about cricket match, but didn't suit Red Klotz, or me.

I met Red once, around 1988 when I was troubleshooting their performance in West Berlin for ABC's Wide World Of Sports. The big story was Nancy Lieberman playing for the Generals (and married to the Generals' Tim Cline, though when she came out to dinner with us it was on her own); she'd signed just after Lynette Woodard, the first woman to play with Globetrotters, had left their team. The other story, of course, was Berlin, and ABC wanted to show the Globetrotters in East Berlin, but the German officials and DDRF (television) had denied my request. So I hired one of the tour buses that made the trip every day, just for us, and then explained to the driver that no, we weren't going to the Pergemon, or the Telecom Tower, we wanted to see the basketball courts. So we cruised around, and found a playground, and the Globetrotters got out and with our cameras running, started to play. A crowd gathered quickly, they interacted, and inevitably the Vopos showed up soon after. We argued, pretended to stop filming, eventually got back on the bus, and left, looking for another court. After the third time, we had enough tape, and returned to the West. At some point, probably at the performance, I was talking to Red, who of course was fine with women playing on his team and their opponents, and I told him the story. I said something like 'you should've come along' and he said 'no, the Globetrotters do that stuff, not us. They're the Globetrotters.' For some reason, I thought that was funny. Here's the piece as I wrote it:

In sport there are winners, there are losers, and then there are the Washington Generals. The public face of the Generals, who served as the regular opposition and straight-men for the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, was for more than four decades Red Klotz, who has died aged 93. By conservative estimate Klotz came out on the losing side to the clown princes of basketball more than 14,000 times. He lost in 117 countries, on the deck of an aircraft carrier, in a bull-ring, before H.M. the Queen, in the Amazon rain-forest and in a German football stadium before 75,000 people, playing on a plywood floor set on beer barrels. He lost playing under aliases like New York Nationals, International All-Stars, Atlantic City Seagulls and Boston Shamrocks. He called himself the 'loss leader', but quickly lost count. 'It's easier to keep track of the wins,' he said.

It was easier because there was only one, though Klotz always claimed a scorekeeper's error had stolen a Generals victory in 1962. But there was no mistake on 5 January 1971, in Martin, Tennessee. With seconds remaining, Klotz hit his trademark old-fashioned two-hand set shot from 20 feet out, giving his team, that night playing as the New Jersey Reds, a 100-99 victory. The crowd was stunned. 'Beating the Globetrotters was like shooting Santa Claus,' he said.

Ironically, Klotz came to his calling because he was a winner. Born Louis Herman Klotz on 21 October 1920, in Philadelphia, where his father, an immigrant from Russia, was a carpenter, his nickname came from his hair. Despite standing only 5 foot 7, he led South Philadelphia High School to two city championships. He played at Villanova University for two years before joining the army in 1942, serving as a fitness instructor. After the war, he played for the Philadelphia Sphas (an acronym for South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) in the American Basketball League, then joined the Baltimore Bullets of the Basketball Association of America, winning the 1948 championship of the league which the following season became the National Basketball Association. He remains the shortest player to win an NBA title.

He returned to the Sphas, who beat the Globetrotters two games out of three on a barnstorming tour in 1949. The NBA integrated in 1950; in those days the Globetrotters showcased the skills of the nation's best black players against whatever opposition they could find. Although they could still beat some NBA teams through the Fifties, Globetrotter owner Abe Saperstein saw the writing on the wall and in 1952 asked Klotz to put together a team to provide regular opposition and allow his team to become entertainers. Naming them Generals after President Dwight Eisenhower, Klotz owned and ran the team, coached it, and became its most memorable player.

For decades the sight of the tiny Klotz chasing Curly Neal or Meadowlark Lemon as they dribbled circles around him or having balls bounced off his head as he jumped futilely at a taller player, served as a metaphor for an audience with dreams but no hope of playing basketball at the highest level.Then Klotz retreated long distances from the basket and sank two-handed shots, restoring a glimmer of that hope.

Klotz played for the Generals until he was in his 60s, and coached them until 1995. He chose players who understood their role as second bananas, but insisted they always played to win within those limitations. And in 1988 Klotz and the Generals made history when forward Tim Cline married the team's point guard, Nancy Lieberman.

After retiring Klotz passed control of the team to one of his sons-in-law, but he continued to play pick-up basketball on local courts well into his eighties. In 2011, the Globetrotters retired his jersey number when he joined Neal, Lemon, and three others (note: Marques Haynes, Goose Tatum, Wilt Chamberlain; I left that out of the Telegraph's copy) in the team's Ring of Honor. A biography, The Legend of Red Klotz, by Tim Kelly, appeared last year. He died of cancer 12 July 2014 at home in Margate, New Jersey, and is survived by his wife of 72 years, Gloria, three sons and three daughters. As he once told an interviewer, 'somebody had to make it a show.'

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