The Life Of Red Klotz, Illustrious Loser To The Harlem Globetrotters

As a basketball coach, Red Klotz had one job — to lose. And he did it well. As a player, coach and general manager of a team usually known as the Washington Generals, he lost countless times to the Harlem Globetrotters. Klotz died Saturday at age 93, and John Ferrari, his colleague and son-in-law, has this remembrance.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We typically celebrate basketball coaches and general managers for their records - their winning records. John Wooden won 664 games in the college ranks. Phil Jackson has won 11,155 regular-season games in the NBA and another 229 in the playoffs. It's very impressive but only if you're hung up on the winning thing. Red Klotz lost more games than either of them ever wanted more consistently because that was his job - to lose, to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters. Red Klotz led the team as player, coach and general manager that was usually known as the Washington Generals. The Generals with the Trotter's traveling opponents who were to the Globetrotters roughly what Abbott was to Costello. Red Klotz died Saturday at age 93. John Ferrari was with him for 30 years as coach, executive and son-in-law and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

JOHN FERRARI: Thank you Robert.

SIEGEL: Let's start with your late father-in-law's playing career. As a young man he was a college player and even at 5'7" briefly a professional. Tell us about his playing days, what you heard.

FERRARI: Red was an all-star at South Philadelphia High School and went on and played at Villanova. Then in 1948 was a member of the 1948 NBA championship Baltimore Bullets. He then went to play for a team in Philadelphia called the SPHAs. Abe Saperstein booked three-game tour against the SPHAs - Trotters were playing regular ball at that time and Red Athelmez (ph), the coach, beat the Trotters two games out of three and the following year Abe called Red directly and said I remembered you and I've come up with an idea to create a traveling show team and I'd like you to be my opponent and that was in 1952 and we've been the opponent ever since.

SIEGEL: Of course the Washington Generals they often were players who'd played very well in college. It wouldn't have been as funny if they were just a bunch of guys who couldn't play ball.

FERRARI: Correct. Even to this day we recruit basketball players. I don't recruit actors and Red did the same thing. You know, he would go to college coaches and say, listen this is what we do and it was a great opportunity to travel the world. You just have to convince people that, you know, winning is not the end-all and the be-all of it. You know, as Red used to say we're the Ginger Rogers to the Fred Astaire. We only lose basketball games by dancing backwards.

SIEGEL: He lost - his teams lost nearly, nearly every game to the Harlem Globetrotters. But there was a game in 1971 what happened?

FERRARI: Well, it was in Martin, Tennessee, was one of those old gyms where the scorekeeper and the announcer were up in the mezzanine level. And Red new exactly what the score was and he took the final shot and he knew that the Generals - the New Jersey Reds at the time - had won 100 to 99. And there was some confusion in the up above as to the score. Well, Red went to his guys said, we better get off the floor and get in the locker room because some ones going to be upset when they find out that the Trotters have lost. And he then tells me he went in the locker room and there was no champagne so they poured orange soda over their heads.

SIEGEL: (Laughter). How did this happen? How did they win by mistake?

FERRARI: They just kind of lost track of the score and, you know, number three Red didn't lose track of the score and the shot was there, Robert, and he took it.

SIEGEL: What kind of a guy was your father-in-law when he wasn't playing or coaching basketball?

FERRARI: He was truly one of the nicest, most humane men I've ever had the pleasure to meet. You could shake his hand, you could look in his face and he had this smile and there was no malice, there was no secret, you know, desire to hurt anyone. If he was ever asked, you know, about a player's capabilities everyone was, quote, "a fine basketball player." He was just a good, good man.

SIEGEL: And did you ever attempt or did he ever add up the number of games that his teams had lost?

FERRARI: You know, he was asked that all, you know, all the time. And, you know, he would say, I don't know it's something in the thousands. He said, ask me how games I've won - I'll talk about that.

SIEGEL: (Laughing). That was an easy conversation to have when it came to the Generals. OK. Well John Ferrari, thanks a lot for talking with us about your father-in-law.

FERRARI: Robert, it was my pleasure. Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: John Ferrari who runs the Washington Generals is the son-in-law of the team's founder Red Klotz who died on Saturday at the age of 93.

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