PHILADELPHIA - Margate resident Louis "Red" Klotz never got used to losing.
Each one of the 14,000 or so defeats his Washington Generals suffered to the Harlem Globetrotters was met with disappointment and frustration.
"Every time we went out there, I was trying to beat them," Klotz, 90, said Sunday. "I know people don't believe me, but nobody ever told us that we had to lose to them. They had so much talent, they didn't need our help."
However, Klotz never let his competitive instincts get in the way of entertaining the millions of fans who showed up to see the Generals take on the Globetrotters. During his 30-plus year career as the Generals' player/coach, he eventually became nearly as well known as Globetrotter legends such as Meadowlark Lemon and Curley Neal.
The Philadelphia native was rewarded for his contributions to basketball when his green No. 3 Generals jersey was retired and raised to the rafters of Wells Fargo Center at halftime of a Globetrotters-Generals game Sunday. More than 12,000 fans treated him to a standing ovation. More than 35 members of Klotz's family, including Gloria Klotz, his wife of 69 years, joined in.
"It was a wonderful gesture," Klotz said. "To put my jersey up there with all those great (former Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers) is truly something special."
The ceremony meant even more because Klotz grew up a few blocks away from the arena in South Philly. He was the city's two-time player of the year at South Philadelphia High School in the early 1940s before starring at Villanova University.
After college, he played for the now-defunct American Basketball League's South Philadelphia Hebrew Athletic Society (SPHAS) and later earned an NBA title as a rookie with the Baltimore Bullets in 1947-48.
"Before I formed the Generals, I was always a winner," Klotz said with a laugh. "When (Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein) came to me in 1952 and asked me to play the Globetrotters, I didn't realize what I was getting myself into."
Klotz named the Washington Generals after Dwight D. Eisenhower, but they didn't have a home court. Over the years, they were also known as the Baltimore Rockets, Boston Shamrocks, New Jersey Reds and even the Atlantic City Seagulls.
Klotz did manage to beat the Globetrotters a few times.
His last victory came 40 years ago, on Jan. 5, 1971, in Martin, Tenn. Klotz, then a 50-year-old player/coach, hit the game-winning shot in a 100-99 overtime victory for the New Jersey Reds that reportedly snapped the Globetrotters' 2,495-game winning streak.
"Red was a pretty easygoing guy on the court most of the time, but when the game was on the line, he wanted the ball," said Atlantic City native Sam Sawyer, 71, who joined the Generals in 1964-65 and played 20 years for them. "I especially remember that game. Red said, 'Give the damn ball. If the (fans) want to get mad at somebody, let them get mad at me. I'll take the blame if we beat them.' Then he hit one of those set shots and we won."
Afterward, the Reds/Generals celebrated in their locker room. The players couldn't find any champagne, so they doused Klotz with orange soda to match his hair.
Lemon and Neal both stopped in to offer their congratulations.
"I wasn't upset at all," Neal, 68, said Sunday. "You can't win them all. I thought it was great for them. I was happy for Red and those guys because they hadn't won in so long."
Neal, who retired in 1985 after a 22-year career with the Globetrotters, was among those who joined Klotz at midcourt for Sunday's ceremony. Lemon is scheduled to join Klotz as the grand marshals of the annual Ocean City Doo-Dah Parade this year.
Klotz stopped playing for the Generals at age 63 but still plays basketball. On balmy summer evenings, he can still be found launching two-handed set shots on the courts outside the Milton & Betty Katz Jewish Community Center in Margate.
His hair is gray now, but his love for the game is as bright as ever.
"These legs have played basketball in over 100 countries," Klotz said. "I've run a lot of miles on these two feet and I'd like to think I still have a few miles left. Basketball is a great game."
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