The Biggest Loser

Klotz (right) with the 1989 Washington Generals - approaching the half-way point in their 40-year losing streak.
Klotz (right) with the 1989 Washington Generals - approaching the half-way point in their 40-year losing streak.

'RED' KLOTZ, AT 89, HAS A TEAM THAT'S GLOBETROTTERBAIT. BUT THAT'S OK BY HIM

Posted: March 08, 2011

TOM PETTY was no doubt correct when he wrote that "even the losers get lucky sometime."

But what the veteran rocker didn't mention was that once in a while, they also achieve immortality.

That's certainly true of Louis "Red" Klotz, founder-owner of the Washington Generals. Sunday, the 89-year-old South Philly-born basketball legend will have his number 3 jersey hung from the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center during halftime of the Generals' 1 p.m. game against the Harlem Globetrotters. If history is any guide, it's a game the squad is almost certain to lose.

The Generals, of course, are the team that has, since 1952, provided the Globies' opposition. All you need to know about the unit, which plays hundreds of games every year around the world, is that this past January marked the 40th anniversary of the Generals' last victory over the "clown princes of basketball."

If the team's legacy of losing has ever affected the almost supernaturally fit and trim near-nonagenarian, he's keeping it to himself. For public consumption, at least, it's always been about priorities for Klotz.

"I was maintaining a large family," said the father of six whose youngest child is 55 (there are also 20 grandchildren and great-grandchildren today). "That was more important than anything else. I was going to the bank."

He added that, despite public perception, his team has never taken a dive - which would have been anathema to him, given his pre-Generals track record. He played on a South Philadelphia High School for Boys team that won a city championship in the 1930s, and for an early-'40s Baltimore Bullets team that captured a crown in the American Basketball League, the forerunner of today's NBA. (According to Wikipedia.com, at 5'-7", Klotz is the shortest member of a championship team in pro basketball history.)

"Regardless of what people think, I always had my players go out and try to win," he insisted. "I was used to winning all the time."

Klotz, who grew up on Darien Street near Jackson, in South Philly, and attended Villanova, is hardly spending his golden years in a rocking chair reminiscing about the good old days. While his son-in-law, John Ferrari, handles the Generals' day-today operations as general manager, Klotz, who lives in a beachfront Margate, N.J. home with Gloria, his wife of 69 years (that is not a typo), remains actively involved with the team as a consultant.

Even more amazingly, the World War II veteran continues to put his trademark two-handed set shot to use in pickup games, which may explain how, at his age, he is still able to bound up the steps of his house at a pace someone half his age would envy. "I do [exercise], I do everything I have to do," he replied when asked to share his secret of longevity and good health.

While Klotz described as "special" Sunday's ceremony in which his number will be placed alongside those of such local hoop icons as Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Billy Cunningham, he did express disappointment that, despite a lobbying campaign that has lasted more than a decade, he has not yet been inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield, Mass.

According to his cousin, Fred Lavner, of Bala Cynwyd, Klotz may be a victim of his unique place in the game's history (after all, his team has lost thousands of games), but he is surely hurt by the mysterious nature of the museum's selection process.

"The whole thing about who gets into the Basketball Hall of Fame is that it's a secret society," said Lavner, who runs B4, a company that manufactures T-shirts based on Philadelphia neighborhood nostalgia, and who has spearheaded the drive to get Klotz inducted. "Nobody is to know who the judges are or how the process works."

As a result, he continued, letter-writing efforts on Klotz's behalf by such titans as Cunningham and former 76ers coaches Larry Brown and Chris Ford, as well as a DVD about Klotz produced by former Sixers executive Dave Coskey, have been in vain - and maybe even hindered the induct-Klotz drive. "It's kind of a slippery slope," lamented Lavner. " is not one of those things you're supposed to campaign for."

But Lavner hasn't given up the fight to see his kin enshrined with other pillars of the game. "If not now," he asked rhetorically, "when?"

Attempts to reach officials in the Hall of Fame's media-relations department were not successful.

Even without the Hall of Fame honor, Klotz, who has visited more than 100 nations as the Generals' player-coach-owner, appreciates that his has been a singular and blessed life.

"As a kid," he said, "I always dreamed of going around the world, but I never thought I would. And I turned out to be one of the most-travelled people. And I would say that it's been a dream come true that I became part of the world famous Harlem Globetrotters."

The Harlem Globetrotters have five Delaware Valley games against the Washington Generals this weekend. Friday, the teams meet at 7 p.m. at Temple University's Liacouras Center. Saturday, they play at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Sun National Bank Center, in Trenton. Sunday's Wells Fargo Center exhibitions are set for 1 and 6 p.m. For tickets and information, go to harlemglobetrotters.com or wellsfargocenter.com/events.aspx.

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