Check your ESPN listings on March 31 for Spike Lee’s documentary on the life of Jackie Robinson. April 15 marks the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s breaking major league baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
Story of the Week
LOUIS "RED" KLOTZ
I’ve known about “Red” Klotz for decades. When I read this article, now three years old, I determined that you would enjoy it, just as I did.
March 15, 2004 News
Louis "Red" Klotz is the greatest loser in sports history, but that is not going to stop him from winning the next game, he says. As the player/coach/owner for more than 50 years of the teams that play the Harlem Globetrotters, Klotz, 83, is still trying to get a second win.
Klotz's newest team, the New York Nationals, was preparing to play the Harlem Globetrotters during the middle of a season that has 113 games in 108 days.
The Globetrotters are seeing a resurgence in popularity under their new owner, Mannie Jackson, and the Nationals, who have not won a game since the team was created almost 10 years ago, have been the butt of jokes in front of hundreds of thousands of fans on almost every continent. They are the away team wherever they go, getting booed and yelled at, but the Nationals' first goal is to make the audience smile. Still, they cling to the quixotic goal of earning a victory this year or next year. And if not next year, definitely the year after that.
As a point guard with the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association in the 1940s, Klotz first faced the Globetrotters and beat them. He played with that team until 1947, when he joined the National Basketball Association's Baltimore Bullets. At 5 feet 7 inches tall, he is the third-shortest person to play in the NBA, and that year, he was the shortest ever to be part of a championship team.
Five years later, the Globetrotters invited Klotz to form a team to tour with them.
In 1953, under player/coach Klotz, the Washington Generals (named after Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower) lost the first of their more than 13,000 defeats. Their one victory came in 1971 when Klotz, 50 years old at the time, hit the game-winning shot with three seconds left. He retired as a point guard at 62, having played on both sides of the Iron Curtain and in front of two popes and hundreds of world leaders.
In 1995, Klotz disbanded the Generals and started the Nationals to clear the benches and erase a dismal record. The Nationals have lost thousands of games since then.
As the seats at the Garden began to fill, the Nationals players sat quietly in their locker room, playing dominoes, chewing tobacco and getting haircuts. There were no actual lockers, so they hung their jackets and bags on hooks.
The players had a light covering of sweat from their warm-up games, but Klotz, who played with them and still plays pickup games at least three times a week, was already showered and dressed in a suit for the game. His big ears contrasted with the small features on his nearly wrinkleless face, and his shock of red hair, for which his nickname was bestowed upon him, has patches of gray.
Most of the players were chatting, joking, fighting over the last Red Bull in the cooler, but Juwan Justice was meditating silently with his head down. Justice, 24, played for an NBA development league in Florida, the Eastern Basketball Association and a professional team in Trinidad before coming to the Nationals. This was his first game for the team. He insisted that he was calm, but the moment someone mentioned the venue, he unleashed a big smile and said, "You've got to be excited to play in the Garden."
Turnover for the team is high, but the competition for spots is intense, and there are always men waiting to join. The pay is not much. Most Nationals take odd jobs, like painting houses, in their time off to make ends meet, but the opportunity to travel, entertain and play the game they love is worth the sacrifice, the players said.
Before the game, Klotz offered one of his mantras. It did not inspire victory, but it helped his players understand that they are not alone: "When the season ends, there's only going to be one winner," he said. "The rest are losers. That doesn't mean they're not good."
By the time the Nationals ran onto the court, the Garden seats were three-quarters full. The crowd remained silent as the team was introduced. The Globetrotters got a standing ovation and put on a show with six balls during warm-ups. The Nationals had only one ball with which to warm up.
It was an "off" night for the Globetrotters. In between Globetrotter stunts, when the teams were actually playing basketball, the Nationals were scoring. When the Globetrotters were showing off, they did not hit a single half-court shot. The referee blew his whistle at a Globetrotter for pinching a National player's bottom during free throws, and a 9-year-old girl in the crowd turned to her father and said, "That man in the black stripes is mean," dismissing the "good guy's" transgression.
The Nationals played hard, panting and sweating as they approached the bench during time-outs. But the Globetrotters' size and talent overwhelmed them; they lost 70-40.
The locker room was silent. Like the thousands of games before this one, there was not much to celebrate, but Justice had a good first game, shooting 2 for 5 from behind the 3-point line. He was sitting in the same position as he was before the game. The big smile returned as he thought about what he had just accomplished: "It don't get no better than that," he said. "It was cold, and I was nervous, but once the people came, then you felt the love."
Klotz was proud of the effort the team gave. Although he wants to win, he needs players like Justice who can find comfort in making an audience laugh. "I need a player who No. 1 has a sense of humor," Klotz said. "You're playing the Harlem Globetrotters. They've got everything in the world going for them. There's no disgrace in losing."
Despite Klotz’s contributions to the game, the powers that be at the Hall of Fame have not been won over. They solicited his jersey and other memorabilia for a 1995 display on the Globetrotters, but they’ve rejected his entry into the Hall three straight times, most recently in 2002.
Chris Ford, former NBA player and coach, believes that Klotz’s accomplishments should qualify him for the Hall of Fame. “If it’s about all the games he’s lost, they’re missing the point,” Ford says. “It’s not about who wins a game involving the Globetrotters. It’s about opening up basketball to millions of people.”
Klotz, now 86, will again be eligible for the HOF this year. Chris Ford is correct; Red Klotz deserves to be enshrined in the Hall, and now, while he's still alive to enjoy it.
Last Week’s Trivia
Early in their first season, the North Stars experienced a terrible tragedy. On January 13, 1968, forward Bill Masterton suffered a fatal injury during a game against the Oakland Seals. After getting hit by Seals forward Ron Harris, Masterton (who was not wearing a helmet) fell backwards, hitting the back of his head on the ice. He never regained consciousness and died on January 15, 1968, at the age of 30, two days after the accident. To date, this remains the first and only death in NHL history resulting from an on-ice injury. The North Stars retired his jersey, and later that year hockey writers established the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy which would be given annually to a player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
Trivia Question of the Week
What pitcher has started the most seventh games in World Series competition? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.