The late, great Earl Weaver once declared, “On my tombstone, just write, ‘The sorest loser who ever lived.’”
Red Klotz was Earl Weaver’s polar opposite. He was the greatest loser who ever lived.
He turned losing into a show. He lost all over the world — more than 14,000 basketball games.
Red Klotz passed away at the age of 93 Saturday in his sleep at his Margate, New Jersey, home, according to the Press of Atlantic City.
He was best known for being the coach of the biggest losers the game of basketball has ever seen — the Washington Generals, the patsy for the Harlem Globetrotters — from 1953 to 1995. When he was done losing with the Generals, he started a new team, the New York Nationals, and the New Jersey Reds and other teams, but the losers that defined him were the Washington Generals. He lost and lost and lost.
And people loved him for it.
His passing is another loss of wonder. It’s another loss of childhood awe, the era when performers traveled around the world, going from town to town with an act that would become part of childhood memories — the time a kid laughed as the Washington Generals lost another game to the Harlem Globetrotters.
It’s a disappearing treasure — acts like “The King and his Court,” softball legend Eddie Feigner, who would come to town with three players on his team and defeat the local softball team. The carnival barker, the showman — something we had never seen before, and couldn’t wait to see again when they came back to town.
Nobody ever saw losing like Red Klotz lost.
He wasn’t always a loser. In fact, it was a victory that led to his long, glorious path of losing.
He was Philadelphia-born, and, as Philadelphia Player of the Year, led his high school to city championships in 1939 and 1940. He went to Villanova, and then to the NBA, playing for the championship Baltimore Bullets in 1948. He was 5-foot-7, and remains the shortest player ever to win an NBA title.
Klotz was playing in the American Basketball League, for the Philadelphia Sphas, when they played Abe Saperstein’s Harlem Globetrotters in an exhibition game. Klotz beat the Globetrotters. After becoming coach of the Sphas, Saperstein pitched Klotz about the idea of being the Globetrotters’ patsy. Red Klotz, the greatest loser, was born.
He was such a great loser that when he won, people remembered. It was marked as a place in history — the last time the Harlem Globetrotters reportedly lost a game. It was 1971, and they lost on a last second shot — by Red Klotz.
Klotz was celebrated for losing. He was inducted into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. The Philadelphia Sports Writers Association gave Klotz their “Living Legend” award in 2009. There is a banner honoring him in the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. All that’s missing is the Basketball Hall of Fame.