PHILADELPHIA – Louis “Red” Klotz, a Philadelphian whose basketball life spanned much of the game’s history and produced a historic legacy of losing, died Saturday at 93 at his Philadelphia-area home.
Klotz won championships at South Philadelphia High, with the barnstorming Philadelphia Sphas and with the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets.
But it was with the Washington Generals, the Harlem Globetrotters’ longtime foils, that the 5-foot-7 redhead made a lasting impact.
Klotz, whose family still owns the team, founded the Generals in 1952. Through nearly 50 years as owner, coach and point guard, he lost an estimated 15,000 games to basketball’s showmen.
In the process, he helped basketball boom.
Trotters owner Abe Saperstein realized local opponents often weren’t good enough to provide an entertaining show. Seeking a more consistent product, he asked Klotz to form a permanent opposition.
That team would be known as the Shamrocks, Seagulls, Reds, All-Stars, Nationals and, most famously, Generals.
“The routs were boring for audiences,” Klotz explained in a 2006 interveiw. “So the Trotters would do tricks. Abe understood the showbiz aspect. He allowed them to do their routines. But in between, his team played fundamental, straight-up basketball. That’s why they endure.”
Globetrotters CEO Kurt Schneider said in a statement Monday that “Red was truly an ambassador of the sport and as much a part of the Globetrotters’ legacy as anyone. He was a legend and a global treasure.”
Klotz played with the Generals until he was 68, then became their full-time coach. Into his 90s, he played regularly at the Jewish Community Center and Jerome Avenue courts in Margate.
His short stature and red hair made him a perfect Globetrotter foil. Legends like Meadowlark Lemon and Goose Tatum yanked down his shorts, bounced balls off his head and mimicked his set shot.
“I got involved in that stuff mainly to take it away from my players,” Klotz said. “I wanted them to play ball and not feel like they were going to be humiliated.”
He performed before Popes, kings and millions of ordinary citizens. He played behind the Iron Curtain, on an aircraft carrier, and in front of 75,000 in Berlin, Germany, on a plywood floor perched atop beer barrels.
No one is certain of his Generals record, but Klotz’ biographer, Tim Kelly, estimated it at 6-15,000.
The last victory,” Klotz recalled, occurred 40 years ago, “somewhere in Tennessee.”