Monday, March 31, 2008

THE WASHINGTON GENERALS AND THE LONGEST LOSING STREAK IN THE HISTORY OF BASKETBALL

The dubious distinction of the longest losing streak in basketball history goes to the infamous Washington Generals, who, after 2499 consecutive defeats finally beat the Harlem Globetrotters on January 5, 1971 in a game at Martin, Tennessee. Children in the crowd cried after the Globetrotters' loss--it was like killing Santa Claus. The final score was 100-99 on a shot by 50 year old point guard Red Klotz with 3 seconds left. The timekeeper tried to stop or slow down the clock to allow Meadowlark Lemon to make the final shot but he missed the shot. The victorious Generals celebrated the win by dousing themselves with orange soda instead of champagne (alcohol was not allowed in the venue). The Generals have not won since that brief taste of victory, losing over 10,000 games in a row. In fact, in their entire history, going back to 1953, they won only 6 games, while losing over 13,000.

They have lost games in front of presidents, kings, queens, popes, dictators, Russian premier Khrushchev, Chinese premier Deng Hsiao Ping, and assorted other bigwigs. They've lost in over 100 countries on every continent and thousands of cities across North America. They've even lost on aircraft carriers.

The Washington Generals have become a household name, synonymous with losing. The media often compares them to other notable losers ranging from the Chicago Cubs to perennial presidential candidate Harold Stassen, to the French Army. Think about Charlie Brown attempting to kick the football while Lucy pulls the ball away for the ten thousandth time. In a Simpsons episode, Krusty the Clown bet $5,000 against the Globetrotters, telling his advisors, "I thought the Generals were due!"

I'm hesitant to describe them as the worst team in history because the players have to have talent to be competitive and do what they do. The team recruits decent players from Division II and Division III colleges, mostly Caucasian but some Black players also, who are willing to make good money to be straight men to the clowning antics of the Harlem Globetrotters. The players are generally not good enough to play serious professional basketball, but they can play for many years in show business. Current coach Reggie Harrison hasn't won a game in his career, but doesn't worry about irate fans or sportswriters trying to get him fired. In his pregame peptalk, Harrison says, "This is the night the coyote is going to catch the roadrunner."

In every game, the teams play normal, serious basketball for the first half and the Globetrotters do their stunts in the second half. In most games, the score is kept fairly close--most games are decided by 10 points or less.

The team is the alter ego of Louis "Red" Klotz, born in 1921, and now about 87 years old, and needless to say, retired as an active player and coach. Klotz was an outstanding player in Philadelphia, leading his high school team to city championships in 1939 and 1940, and earning Philadelphia Player of the Year honors both seasons. He was only 5'7", but then height was not a major factor in basketball at that time. He played at Villanova University and served in World War II. After the War, he played one season for the Baltimore Bullets of the NBA.

He also played for the Philadelphia Sphas of the American Basketball League (ABL). The mostly Jewish team got its name from the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association which supplied the uniforms. The Sphas, an elite team during the first half of the
20th Century, defeated the Harlem Globetrotters in Klotz's first game against them. In the 1930's and 1940's, professional basketball was dominated by short Jewish guys named Red--Red Klotz, Red Holzman, Red Auerbach--who could shoot the two handed set shot. It's not known whether football legend Red Grange was Jewish.

Klotz later bought the team and changed the name to the Washington Generals. In 1953Abe Saperstein, owner of the Harlem Globetrotters was seeking a team to barnstorm with, and invited Klotz to have his team play them on a regular basis.

Over the years, the Generals changed their name from time to time to give the appearance of more teams. Other names associated with the team were the Boston Shamrocks, Atlantic City Seagulls, Baltimore Rockets and New Jersey Reds, and most recently, the New York Nationals. The uniforms were different but the players were the same. The team remains a separate organization from the Harlem Globetrotters.

Klotz claims the games are "real" and "competitive" contests and his team tries to win every game. To quote Klotz, "like Fred Astaire had Ginger Rogers, the Harlem Globetrotters have always had a dance partner, but I've always been dancing backwards."

The Generals' players have to maintain a certain skill level to make the exhibitions work. They must work with perfect timing during the Globetrotters signature moves to ensure the gags are executed properly. By the time the player has had his shorts pulled down, or the ball bounced through his legs or off his head for the 10,000th time, he obviously has the timing down perfectly. Every game the Generals flail away attempting to get the ball as the Globetrotters play keep away to the tune of Sweet Georgia Brown. They have to be just good enough to make the games look competitive or they'll lost the audience.

Until Congress investigates whether the games are fixed, you probably won't lose money if you bet against the Washington Generals.

KENNETH SUSKIN

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Dan The Generals Fan said...

Awesome article, very informative and a good love letter to the Washington Generals.

June 20, 2011 at 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Dan The Generals Fan said...

I am a little late with this one but I just wanted to say that this was a good article.

I do think it is worth noting, you said that the Generals have won six games against the Trotters since 1953.

Mostly that is true, but it is worth noting that the first two games were actually in the very late 1940's. When they were still a "real" basketball team called the Philadelphia Spha's before they became the Washington Generals.

July 22, 2011 at 5:03 PM  

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