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The Legend of Red Klotz
How Basketball’s Loss Leader Won Over the World—14,000 Times

by Tim Kelly ©2013, Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-935232-75-9, 312 pp

Red Klotz, a first generation son of Russian Jewish immigrants, is one of basketball's greatest pioneers. During a career spanning eight decades, Red opposed the Harlem Globetrotters 14,000 times, beating them just once—on his winning shot. Despite never topping 5'7" Red overcame his diminutive size, anti-Semitism, the Great Depression, and WWII to succeed in basketball.


During his storied career with the Washington Generals, the opponents of the Harlem Globetrotters, Red helped introduce basketball to 116 countries and became an ambassador for America and the Jewish people.


Born and reared in the "Jewish basketball hotbed" of South Philadelphia, Red was denied entry to Temple University because of a quota on Jewish ballplayers. Instead, Red starred with his Jewish best friend, Herman Drizen, at (Catholic) Villanova University.


Red went pro with the Philadelpha Sphas (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association), where he was mentored by Jewish NBA trailblazer Eddie Gottlieb. In 1948 Red became the shortest player to win an NBA championship, with the Baltimore Bullets


This biography traces Red's unlikely journey as the game's most-traveled man.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Joe Posnanski......................................1

Introduction ...........................................................5

1. Pardon Me Shah.................................................11

2. Philly Ball ..........................................................23

3. Southern Comfort Zone......................................35

4. Little Big Man on Campus ...................................49

5. A Changing World ..............................................59

6. Paid to Play.........................................................69

7. Sacrifice and Survival..........................................79

8. It’s a Living.........................................................91

9. Pro Basketball Grows Up....................................103

10. Number One…With a New Bullet .....................113

11. The Duke of Cumberland.................................127

12. Abe Saperstein Calling.........................................137

13. Evita and the Ambassadors .................................149

14. Berlin, Ballparks…and a Proposition .....................159

15. The Generals are Born ........................................171

16. Generals and a President .....................................181

17. Buzzing in the Hornet .........................................193

18. Along Comes Wilt.................................................205

19. Shrinking the Globe..............................................219

20. The Amazing Abe..................................................231

21. The Show Goes On................................................243

22. Re-evolution.........................................................255

23. Tennessee Lightning.............................................265

24. Elder Statesman...................................................277

25. Overtime ............................................................287

Acknowledgements ...................................................301

Notes on Sources ......................................................304

Chapter 1


Pardon Me, Shah


Where were the basketballs? The unsettling thought came to Red Klotz as he prepared to take the court with his Washington Generals and face the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters.


As owner, coach, and tour manager of the Generals, the Globetrotters' primary opponents, Red had plenty to worry about. Player acquisitions and contracts, hotel arrangements, and transportation were just a few of the major items crowding Red's plate. Locating the balls for pregame warmups? That was a detail left to one of his players. On this particular night, Friday July 22, 1955, whoever had been in charge of the task had let Klotz down. The canvass bag of orange leather spheres was nowhere to be found.


This wasn't a routine game among the roughly 300 the Generals and Trotters would play in a typical year. It was the second of two scheduled at the request of the U.S. Department of State in the politically and religiously-charged city of Tehran, Iran. The night before, the teams squared off in front of an audience comprised mainly of peasants. In attendance on this night was none other than His Imperial Royal Majesty himself, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shahanshah or, “king of kings:” The Shah of Iran.


There were no basketball facilities in Iran, as was the case in most parts of the world in 1955. The Trotters and Generals carried their own equipment along for such occasions. Along with the traveling party went the world's first custom-built portable basketball court - a seven-ton wooden floor - as well as heavy steel poles anchored by sandbags to support the backboards and goals. If they couldn't bring Mohammad to the mountain, the Harlem Globetrotters could bring a basketball court to the Shah of Iran.


Just as they had done previously in the British Isles and throughout Western Europe, Africa, the Far East, and Australia, the ballplayers were introducing the American sport to a whole new audience. Not with intense competition, although that did occur, but through comedy, music, and what would come to be known as sports entertainment. This time, their appearance was the result of a request by their government. They had endured difficulties and had made their way to the Middle East. The new-found fans of the game were eating it up.


Red scanned his surroundings for the bag of basketballs and he couldn't help but be impressed by the scene. For a guy who had faced the Globetrotters in bull rings, ancient Greek amphitheatres, and soccer fields, this was something altogether different.


At this relatively early stage of his career, Red Klotz had coached and played in well over 1,000 games on the way to his career total in excess of 14,000. He was accustomed to dealing with the unexpected, but this was a new one. “We were outdoors in a field surrounded by grandstands, and they were packed,” he remembered. “There was a low fence around the area. Low enough that hundreds of people could easily climb over it…and they did. The only boundary that meant anything was a line of armed Iranian military troops.”


Red looked on in astonishment as dozens of anxious spectators jumped the fence at one end of the field until the guards came over. No sooner had they controlled the area than dozens more would jump the fence at the other end. “This kept going on, with the guards running back and forth,” Klotz said. “They used long wooden sticks to lash at the crowd and move people back. They weren't asking anyone to move. They were telling them with solid wood.”


At center court, something else caught Red's eye. The Shah was looking on from a specially built royal viewing platform. The stands were divided, with the Shah's perch in the middle. It contained Pahlavi, family members, and an additional compliment of armed guards. “The Shah was isolated and was not mingling among his people,” Red recalled. “He couldn't be among the people, because of attempts that had been made on his life.”


Just a few years prior, Pahlavi's regime had taken over British refining interests in the oil-rich kingdom and nationalized the industry. The royal family had accumulated spectacular wealth while millions suffered in poverty. The anti-Shah sentiment was growing steadily and would explode in 1979 when Pahlavi left the country for cancer treatment in the U.S. His government would be overthrown while fundamentalists seized the U.S. Embassy and took U.S. citizen hostages.


The Shah's popularity had started to wane decades earlier. At a 1949 public ceremony in Tehran, an assailant somehow breeched security and fired five shots. One of the bullets grazed Pahlavi, and the would-be assassin was shot and killed on the spot by the guards.


Such history resulted in the show of force at the game, and despite the dangers, Pahlavi looked on in the very public setting to observe the American athletes. By his side was the second of his three wives, Malakey (Arabic for Queen) Soraya. More of the rifletoting military officers guarded the area in front of the box, so positioned to serve as human shields, if need be.


A plush, bright red carpet ran from the edge of the basketball court to the steps of the platform. “Better to hide any blood that might be spilled,” Red said, only half-kidding. “Things over there were a little jumpy.”


Nevertheless, Red was at an age when dangers and hassles just didn't seem to matter. Why would they? Klotz was being well-paid to play a game he loved against a great team. Together, they were introducing basketball to millions of people.


The Generals were second fiddle to the Globetrotters and always would be, but Red's team was selected from the best talent available in order to push the Trotters to play their best. Through the years, this would mean signing more than two dozen players talented enough to switch locker rooms and sign with the Trotters. Some, like Greg Kohls and Bill Campion, were big name players in the college ranks, and a select few, like Charlie Criss, Med Parks, Sam Pellom, and Ron Sobie, made it to the NBA. One, Nancy Lieberman, became the first woman pro to play with men, and would be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Red's efforts with the team would stretch over 14,000 games in 100 countries and more than six decades. However, on this night in 1955, Red's and the Generals' impact on the game was not at top of mind. The main objective was to get through the game successfully and without incident.


At the time of the State Department's requested Middle East appearance, the Globetrotters' brilliant entrepreneurial founder and owner-coach, Abe Saperstein, was on the verge of wrapping up his fifth triumphant international tour. Crowds were receptive and enthusiastic in places where Cold War propaganda had painted an ugly picture of America.


The all-black Trotters and integrated Generals dispelled many preconceived notions. Two teams shared the same court, laughs, and good sportsmanship in competition. The laughter and fellowship that was apparent deflated many ideas about racial prejudice and inequality. Some of the Communist nations were holding that African Americans had not advanced much at all since the abolition of slavery. It was true that race relations still needed to come a long way in the U.S., but one never would know that from what was happening on the court in Iran that night.


The tour's appeal also could be traced to Saperstein's intuitive sense of promotion and star power. The London-born, Chicago-raised Abe was the first person truly to understand and exploit the fact that professional sports were entertainment. In contrast, the NBA, spawned a decade earlier by large arena owners, had not yet gotten the hint. The NBA had plenty of basketball talent, but the games were slow and plodding, especially next to the freewheeling style and speed of play displayed by the Trotters and Generals. In an effort to boost attendance, Abe's team also was hired to play in doubleheaders with the NBA squads,


In an interview for a Globetrotters' documentary, Boston Celtics' Hall of Famer Bob Cousy talked about the folly of having the Globies open such twin bills. The owners would sell a lot of tickets, and when the Trotters-Generals' “preliminary game” was through, “half the house would get up and leave,” Cousy said. That only happened a few times before the owners wised up and switched the NBA games to the preliminary billing.


At least 30 years before “Showtime” was coined to describe the 1980s' Los Angeles Lakers, Saperstein was dimming the house lights and having his players burst through a giant paper basketball-shaped Globetrotters logo and run onto the court to the strains of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” Brother Bones' toe-tapping version of the song was blared over the public address system while the crowd clapped along and the Trotters formed their “magic circle” at midcourt. They performed all kinds of ball tricks and fancy dribbling, spun the balls on their fingers, and rolled them across their backs and down their arms.


Once the game began, the Trotters' usual method was to roll up a big lead and then perform comedy routines, or “reams,” during the action. They always had a dribbling specialist and a dead-eye shooter who could convert long hook shots from a distance seldom seen in conventional competition. As if that weren't enough, Abe kept things interesting at halftime and pregame by adding jugglers, acrobats, table tennis champions, singers and dancers, and star athletes from other sports. The Globies weren't just a basketball team. They were a traveling variety show.


The fans responded at the turnstiles, and the Trotters became international sensations. The Generals' talents also were recognized with appreciative applause both at home in the U.S. and on the world stage. The little five-foot-seven flame-haired guard from South Philly proved to be a big crowd favorite. Red Klotz had the uncanny ability to nail his two-handed set shot and his nearly-as-deadly hook from long distances. Klotz also participated in many of the reams. His specialty was to chase the Globetrottters' dribbler in a well-choreographed routine, or he would improvise something on the spot. In between the tricks and comedy, the teams slugged it out in serious hard-nosed basketball played at the high-est skill level. It was a winning formula.


“We made people like Americans wherever we went,” Klotz said. “Language barriers and social customs did not matter in the slightest. We went into places that hated America, and by the time we left, they were bowing down to us. That's no exaggeration. Laughter has no language.”


Said ex-Trotter and NBA star Connie Hawkins: “We were…the Pied Piper. Everywhere we went, people would be walking around, following us.”


Basketball-wise, the product Saperstein rolled out was jaw-dropping. Though known as a flamboyant showman and promoter, Abe was a basketball guy first, and the Trotters certainly could play. By 1955, Abe was already in his twenty-eighth season. He had grown the franchise from a ragtag band of barnstormers who sometimes slept in Abe's car to the most recognized name in the game. They were champs of the pre-NBA World Professional Tournament, and consistently beat a traveling troupe of former college All-Americans in what was dubbed the World Series of Basketball.


Another watershed moment occurred in 1948, shortly after Jackie Robinson had broken through baseball's color line. The Trotters challenged and defeated the mighty Minneapolis Lakers and their six-foot-10 superstar center, one George Mikan. Fans wondered if the showboating Trotters belonged on the same court; they did. More than 17,800 witnessed a tense and thrilling 61-59 Trotter win at Chicago Stadium. Ermer Robinson's winning shot burned the net an instant before the buzzer sounded.


Dispelling any idea that the outcome was a fluke, the Trotters beat the Lakers again the next year, 49-45. This time, it was in front of more than 20,000, and they had a comfortable enough lead at the end to perform a few of their reams. Not only did they humble the Lakers on the court, they “put on the show” against them. Millions more saw it the following week on Movietone newsreel footage in theatres across the United States. The Harlem Globetrotters had arrived. They had made it not merely as entertainers, but perhaps as the best team in all of basketball.


The Generals had been the Globetrotters' regular opponent in the U.S. and world tours since the 1952-53 season. Previously, Abe's squad played against whatever opponent was available. As a result, the Trotters often thrashed a squad of overmatched locals. This did not make for great community relations or for ticket sales on a return visit.


Abe knew Red Klotz was the right man with whom to forge a good working relationship. He became acquainted with Red as a man who shared his deep passion for the game, strong sense of responsibility, and the understanding of what made a good Globetrotter show. Initially, he had seen Klotz perform for the Philadelphia Sphas in back-to-back wins over his team in 1942, and an overtime battle when Red was coaching the Cumberland (Maryland) Dukes of the All-American League. Over the years, he also faced Saperstein with the Sphas' touring team and the U.S. All-Stars squad. He knew Klotz always came to play and to press the Trotters to be at their best. At the same time, Red knew why people were buying the tickets, and he never got in the way of a ream. However, that didn't mean the Generals would roll over. “We were going to make them earn every field goal and make them respect us.”


The Generals' formation was the start of a very strong professional marriage. “Abe and I understood one another. He knew I would never miss a date and that we would be excellent representatives of the United States overseas. We didn't have guys who got into trouble. If one of my guys did, I sent them home.”


The State Department took notice and saw the chance for the group to serve as informal ambassadors. They were asked to play behind the Iron Curtain in Berlin, Germany, and across North Africa. It happened again in 1955 in the political and religious tinderbox of the Middle East.


Abe, always up to the challenge, was a patriot who answered his government's call. He was also an inveterate traveler who loved seeing new places, and experiencing new cultures. The more exotic the locale, the more eager Saperstein was to take his Globetrotters and Red's Generals. For his part, Klotz was excited to grow his organization and to see the world himself.


As he came off the Generals' first trip to Israel that summer, Red wrote to his wife Gloria in Atlantic City: “State Department met us here after the Iranian Air Force picked us up in Bagdad, Iraq in old C-47 paratroop planes,” he penned on the stationery of Tehran's Darband Hotel. Six days earlier in Libya, he wrote: “Feel fine although the heat is terrible. The government of the USA asked us to play in Iran and Iraq. It's only 125 degrees there and going up.”


The action was hot on the court, also. Among other stars on the '55 squad, the Globetrotters featured Reece “Goose” Tatum. A six-foot-four forward and the original “Clown Prince of Basketball,” Tatum was one of the most famous names in the sport, having played a pivotal role in the defeats of Lakers and entertained tens of thousands with his comedy antics. The Trotters also had seven-foot future NBA star Walter Dukes, dribbling ace Leon Hillard, and Robinson, whose long shot proved to be the game winner in the first meeting with the Lakers.


Klotz had a star-packed roster as well. The Generals were an attraction in their own right, with former University of Kentucky All-American Bill Spivey, a seven-foot center who could launch ferocious drives to the basket and shoot with either hand. He led his team to the national title and seemingly was headed to the NBA until his name surfaced in a point-shaving scandal. Despite being cleared of all wrongdoing in a jury trial, Spivey was banned for life from the NBA by Commissioner Maurice Podoloff.


The NBA's loss was the Generals' gain. In Klotz and Spivey, Washington had the best high-low combination in pro basketball at the time. They also had Fred Iehle the six-foot-three forward from LaSalle College, the 1953 MVP of the National Invitation Tournament, and Curt Cuncle, and, a six-foot-three forward from the University of Florida via San Antonio, Texas. Cuncle had been named to the first team Associated Press All American team. Two hard-nosed six-foot-three brothers from Jackson, Tennessee named Tom and Bill Scott rounded out Klotz' formidable top six players.


On the 1955 pro basketball scene, there was the nine-team NBA, and there were the Harlem Globetrotters. There were also the Washington Generals. Despite losing every night and sometimes twice a day, the Generals were one of the 11 best teams on the planet. “People don't think of it that way because we lost, but that was definitely the case,” Klotz said. “We could play with pretty much anybody.”


Bragging rights and a loaded roster did Klotz no good without the basketballs needed to play. Where were the balls? Klotz thought again and realized the bag was most likely where he last saw it, on the team bus. With a shrug, he headed back toward the vehicle. Knowing time was short, he broke into a jog.


The bright red carpet leading from the court to the Shah of Iran's viewing booth lay in Klotz' path. Red didn't know it, but the carpet represented some kind of demarcation line for the noman's-land in the eyes of the Shah's elite armed guard.


Red: “I got to the carpet, and the crowd became hushed. It was dead silent. And then there was this ear-piercing scream from someone in the crowd. It was like something out of a horror picture. It was a scream that could've made your blood run cold. The next thing I knew, I found myself staring down the barrels of the guards' rifles. You could say people were a little on edge.”


Klotz stopped running, inches short of the guns. “Somebody points a gun like that at you, it gets your attention,” he said. “One more step, and they might have turned me into a big piece of Swiss cheese.”


If Red was terrified, he may have been the only one among the American delegation. “I looked back at the benches, and the Trotters and all my players were doubled over, laughing! They were hysterical. It was quite an amusing moment, at least for them.”


Klotz convinced the guards he was not an assassin and that the balls were necessary if the Shah was going to get the show he came to see. From that point on, everything worked out well for the second game in Iran. “We lost the game, the Trotters were great, the crowd loved it, and the Shah was not harmed. Oh yes… and nobody got killed.”


Red (top row, third from left) poses on camelback with members of the Washington Generals and Harlem Globetrotters  in Egypt, 1955.  Abe Saperstein is in the white captain's hat front and center.


By Joe Posnanski


Joe Posnanski is a senior writer at the new venture, Sports On Earth. Previously

he was senior writer at Sports Illustrated, and in 2011 was named National

Sportswriter of the year by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of

Fame. He was a sports writer for the Kansas City Star for sixteen years and was

twice named Best Sports Columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

Joe is the author of four books including The Soul of Baseball, the 2007 winner

of the Casey Award, as America's best baseball book.


There can be little doubt the most traveled player/coach/team executive in the history of basketball is one Louis Herman “Red” Klotz.


“I have run more miles on more courts, in more countries than any other human being,” Red is fond of saying.


This is not some empty boast.  As founder, owner, coach, tour manager and star player, Red Klotz has played or coached in a conservative estimate in excess of 14,000 professional ballgames in more than 100 countries during a career spanning parts of eight decades. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the games were on the losing end of exhibitions to the legendary Harlem Globetrotters hardly matters.  Long before the National Basketball Association was bragging about its globalization, Red Klotz was the most prolific foot soldier in actually laying the foundation.  The NBA would not be comprised of 20 percent foreign players, nor would it have such strong international appeal were it not for the groundbreaking work of the Globetrotters and Red’s team, the Washington Generals.


“The Globetrotters should get most of the credit for making basketball the second most popular team sport, in the world,” Klotz maintains.  “They couldn’t do it alone.  We were there too, and we were part of it. We helped pioneer basketball all over the world.”


Red Klotz has played basketball in the Egyptian desert, the Brazilian Rain Forest and the Australian Outback.  He played on grass surfaces, dirt surfaces, even the surface of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck.  Red Klotz has played before Popes, peasants and kings, Christians, Jews and Moslems, decorated war heroes and maximum security prisoners.  He played behind the iron curtain, the bamboo curtain and the curtain of security guarding the classified locations of American troops.  Along the way he conducted hundreds of clinics on the game and left just as many basketballs behind.


“When we got to most of these places for the first time, everybody was kicking soccer balls around. When we returned we’d see a few (basketball) goals.  And now…well now there are baskets hanging all over the place.”


Not only have international player taken over one-fifth of the NBA, so-called American professional “Dream Teams” have been beaten in the Olympics and international competitions by a diverse list of nations including the former Soviet Union, its breakaway republics and teams from Europe, and South America. It’s not a coincidence that all of these places first witnessed professional games involving the Harlem Globetrotters and teams featuring Red Klotz as player coach and owner.


“Absolutely, Red Klotz belongs in the Hall of Fame,” says longtime friend Chris Hall, who won three NBA championship rings as a player and coach with the Boston Celtics.  “People who think of him as the Globetrotters’ patsy just don’t get it.  They don’t see the very significant impact he has had on the game.  This is a gentleman who has opened the game to millions and millions of people.”


Of his 14,000-plus losses, former college and NBA coach Don Casey said: “He should be in the Hall of Fame for that alone!”


Despite standing just 67 inches from the soles of his Converse All-Stars to the crown of tangerine colored locks which led to his nickname, Red Klotz thrived in a game dominated by giants.  He won big at every level of the game before embarking on a career which took him to the losing side of the scoreboard versus the Globetrotters.  His most recent win over the Trotters may have come more than 40 years ago on his last second shot, but his winning passion for basketball and life transcends all.  He is a stickler for fundamentals, and for doing the little things correctly. He is prideful for his role as a leading basketball ambassador to the world, and for launching the careers of hundreds of players and coaches.


“I owe him everything,” said the late Gene Hudgins, the first well-known black member of the Generals who went on to play for the Globetrotters. “He is an icon,” Hudgins told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s as important to the Globetrotters’ tradition as the Globetrotters are.”


“Opportunities were scarce for black players in the 1950s,” Hudgins went on.  “Red gave me the chance to play beyond college and to see the world doing something that I loved to do.  He was like a father to me.”


Despite such heartfelt accolades, Klotz devotion to the game has always been overshadowed by his popular image as one of the most famous symbols for losing.  He is frequently mentioned in the same grouping with Charlie Brown, perennial presidential candidate Harold Stassen and the old Brooklyn Dodgers, who almost always came in second best to the cross-town New York Yankees.  Pop culture references to Klotz’ history of losing have turned up on Monday Night Football, the pages of countless magazines and newspapers, even on two separate episodes of the hit cartoon series “the Simpsons.”  “Ahh, the Luftwaffe,” Homer Simpson famously intoned. “The Washington Generals of the History Channel.”


Red wasn’t always a loser.  He led his South Philadelphia High School teams to a pair of Public League titles and the city championship in 1939-40.  The following year he sparked the Villanova freshmen to a 35-0 record and starred form the winning varsity team in 1941-42. During World War II he was a key member of the Army Transport team, along with future Philadelphia Warriors ace Petey Rosenberg.  Red was a member of an American League champion Philadelphia Sphas, a dominant pre-NBA pro team, and he won an NBA championship in 1948-49 with the Baltimore Bullets.  He is tied with six other players as the third-shortest player in NBA history and he is still the shortest to ever win an NBA crown.  Hardly the resume of a loser.


Klotz began playing against the Globetrotters regularly in 1950 and with his own organization in 1952.  He didn’t stop playing for good professional until the age of 68, one of the oldest professional athletes in history.  Even then, he still packed a uniform on the road in case of being needed in an emergency.  “In fact, I’m still available!” he chirps/  He played competitively in half court pickup games into his 90s, and when he stopped doing that after a series of strokes, he continued to go out on the court and shoot.  His famous two-hand set shot, once the game’s standard technique, is now a relic from when basketball was played in cages and hotel ballrooms.


Cindy Loffel is a longtime friend and the only female in Red’s group of pick-up players. A former Division One college player, Loffel often is matched up against Red.


“He is another player out there I’m trying to beat,” she said, “and is its real challenge to try to stop him. “He puts so much into it every time he steps on the court.  It might be a fun pickup game, but he takes it very seriously.”


“Sometimes,” Loffel said, “I really stop and think about what he has meant to the game of basketball.  His contributions are truly remarkable.”


Maybe Loffel hit on the problem with Red’s still-pending Hall of Fame induction.


The man has one of the great under-appreciated legacies in basketball and one of the last great untold stories in all of sports.

Tim Kelly has 40 years' experience writing for daily newspapers, national magazines, and sports websites. He is an award-winning sportswriter, reporter, and business writer. Kelly interviewed nonagenarian Red Klotz as well as Red's family, friends and numerous basketball luminaries over the course of six years in writing his story. Kelly resides in Ocean City, NJ.

The Legend of Red Klotz

  • The Legend of Red Klotz
  • The Legend of Red Klotz

Price: $24.95

Tim Kelly


Red Klotz




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