Washington Generals, in Losing Globetrotters Rivalry, Endure Biggest Defeat in Franchise History

Pope Francis Harlem Globetrotters

The Washington Generals never had a prayer.

It’s as though the Roadrunner summarily dismissed Wile E. Coyote or Sherlock Holmes informed Professor Moriarty that he no longer wished to follow him around.

The Harlem Globetrotters took their ball and went home. After 63 seasons, the basketball team decided not to play the Washington Generals any longer. Maybe they just could no longer take the competition, or lack thereof.

“The Washington Generals organization were the opponents of the World Famous Harlem Globetrotters from 1952 to 2015,” the team’s website reads (italics added). “For all the many players and fans throughout the world who supported us, we sincerely thank you.”

Perhaps, after winning more than fifteen thousand games against the Generals in about as many tries, the Globetrotters should have trotted away from their green-and-yellow foes sooner. But in exhibition basketball, like professional wrestling, the fans want heroes and villains—and for the good guys to prevail.

And prevail the Globetrotters did against the Generals—generally. In 1971, the Generals actually defeated the Globetrotters on a shot by team owner Red Klotz. The 50-year-old reflected after the 100-99 victory, “Beating the Globetrotters is like shooting Santa Claus.” Some crying kids thought so.

Klotz died last year, which likely killed the lopsided rivalry. The owner played a season in the NBA after a successful college run at Villanova. For more than sixty years, he ran the Generals as well as such shorter-lived losers as the Boston Shamrocks, New Jersey Reds, and World All-Stars.

Named in honor of a general in Washington, President Dwight Eisenhower, the Washington Generals never quite honored the man who orchestrated the defeat of the Germans at D-Day. And Klotz, sharing the nickname of perhaps the most successful coach in basketball history, similarly stood as a polar opposite of Red Auerbach. The team employed a zone defense—zoned out—that enabled the Globetrotters to score and thrill at will. Others come to play. The Generals came to lay.

Did you expect anymore from a “Washington” team based in New Jersey playing a Harlem five that calls Arizona home?

Like the rivalry, its end strikes as terribly unfair. The Globetrotters now place a team owned by the Globetrotters as their on-court patsies. In staging a fake basketball game, it’s terrible form for the predetermined losers to play as part of the same organization as the predetermined winners. But the ethics of counterfeit hoops aren’t what they used to be.

Like the Flint Tropics, Pittsburgh Pisces, Carver High, and other basketball fictions, the Washington Generals now play only on the hardwood of our dreams. That’s a shame. The New York Knicks could really use them.