Louis Herman 'Red' Klotz, basketball player, coach and team owner

At just 5 feet 7, Klotz was a basketball standout with a killer two-handed shot.
At just 5 feet 7, Klotz was a basketball standout with a killer two-handed shot.
Posted: July 16, 2014

HOW COULD the owner of a basketball team that lost 14,000 games expect to get in the Hall of Fame?

Every year when the inductees were announced, Red Klotz died a little.

But he was not the kind of guy to brood. He took his lumps and moved on. And moving on meant continuing to coach and play the game he loved, into his 90s.

Louis Herman "Red" Klotz, whose involvement in basketball as player, coach and team owner went back 80 years, and the owner and coach of a team that was created to lose to the legendary Harlem Globetrotters in games all over the world, died Saturday. He was 93 and lived in Margate, N.J. He was born and raised in South Philadelphia.

One of Red's major contributions to the sport was taking basketball into regions of the world that had never heard of it, or heard of it as little more than a rumor.

His Washington Generals played the Globetrotters hundreds of times a year, every year, throughout the U.S. and around the world.

"As a kid, I always dreamed of going around the world," he told the Daily News' Chuck Darrow in 2011. "But I never thought I would. And I turned out to be one of the most traveled people. And I would say it's been a dream come true that I became part of the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters."

Red also was a standout player, even though he was a mere 5 feet 7. He had a killer two-handed shot that was unerringly accurate.

He would sometimes go out on the court during a Globetrotters game and fire that 40-footer into the basket.

Although the Generals were paid to act as foils and pretend to be baffled by the Globetrotters' trickery, the Generals occasionally won. Once, "somewhere in Tennessee," as Red put it, he launched one of his two-handers at the buzzer and his team won by one point.

About 10 years ago, when he was 83, he was challenged to a foul-shooting contest by his friend Lewis Katz, former co-owner of the Daily News, the Inquirer and Philly.com, who died in a plane crash near Boston on May 31.

The contest was held at the Margate Jewish Community Center, and the stakes were $500 to be paid to the winner's favorite charity.

As related by Red's cousin, writer Fred Lavner, Katz, then 62, made seven out of his first 10 shots. Red sank 10 straight.

Katz then specified that he would pay $100 for each foul shot Red made. Red sank 62 straight, and Katz wound up donating $6,700 to the community center.

"I could have kept going," Red said.

Two summers ago, Lavner said, Katz pulled up in his car outside the playground next to the community center and watched as Red, then 90, sank a running hook shot.

"Lew just shook his head and drove off," Lavner said.

Red was a common site in Margate as he arrived at the Jerome Avenue playground with a red-white-and-blue basketball and a duffel bag containing bandages, finger splints and boric acid, and looked for a pickup game.

Red was a basketball star at South Philadelphia High School for Boys, which he led to back-to-back city titles and was player of the year both times.

He was a star point guard at Villanova University before entering the Army in World War II. He served at a base in Las Vegas, N.M., where he was in charge of physical education and played on a touring Army team.

After the Army, Red played professionally with the Philadelphia Sphas, which won the American Basketball League title in 1945, and the Baltimore Bullets, before Abe Saperstein, owner of the Globetrotters, contacted him.

Red formed the Generals, which also used the names Boston Shamrocks, Atlantic City Seagulls, New Jersey Reds, International All-Stars and New York Nationals. The players would simply Velcro the names of the teams on their jerseys.

"In any comedy act, somebody has to take a pie in the face," wrote the late Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin. "That somebody was the Generals, the losingest team in the history of sports.

"But Red's other role, the importance of which can never be overstated, was to grow the game. What he did as Roundball Ambassador Without Portfolio . . . is linked to why the NBA is cluttered with players from every continent."

"I know people laugh at us," Red once said. "They say, 'Oh, he throws the games. He lets them win.' I wouldn't let anybody win. We push them up against the wall. We make them play. We make them better."

Red performed in front of popes and emperors. He played behind the Iron Curtain, on the deck of an aircraft carrier and in front of 75,000 in Berlin on a plywood floor perched atop hundreds of beer bottles.

But induction in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, despite the determined efforts of his many supporters, eluded him.

"Eddie Gottlieb, Ned Irish, Walter Brown deserve to be there," he told an Inquirer reporter in 2006, referring to the founding fathers of the NBA who were inducted as contributors. "But I did the same thing as them and am still doing the same thing. I think I belong, too."

Red is the subject of a book, The Legend of Red Klotz (2013), by journalist Tim Kelly, extolling his career.

Red and his wife, the former Gloria Stein, met as teenagers in Atlantic City. They were married 74 years ago.

Besides his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Ronnie Groff, Kikki Smiley and Iann Ferrari; three sons, Chuck, Glenn and Kenneth; 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Services: A memorial service will be planned later.

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