News & Politics

Washington Loses the Basketball Team It Never Really Had

The Washington Generals are finished.

Typical suffering. Photograph by Ferenc Szelepcsenyi via Shutterstock.

The Wizards are now officially Washington’s only professional basketball team, following a report from NBC Sports about the demise of the Washington Generals, longtime patsies of the Harlem Globetrotters. The Generals, Joe Posnanski writes, folded earlier this summer when the Globetrotters ended their 63-year-old business partnership with the ever-suffering club.

Of course, the Generals, who lost an estimated 14,000 games over their run, had no actual connection to Washington beyond their their name. The team was created in 1952 by former Baltimore Bullet Lou “Red” Klotz with the explicit purpose of giving the Globetrotters a permanent opponent as the more famous team toured arenas across the United States. While the Globetrotters—who were actually formed in Chicago, not Harlem—started out as a competitive, barnstorming team, the rise of the nascent National Basketball Association turned them into the comedy act they’re known as today.

Klotz was based in New Jersey, but a team that’s constantly on the road can be from anywhere. Before he died in 2014, Klotz told Deadspin he picked Washington because it had no pro basketball team at the time, and “Generals” because, Klotz said, “People loved Eisenhower, and he was new then.” It was no great honor, though. The Globetrotters and Generals embarked a six-decade tour in which “Washington” players were routinely embarrassed by—among other indignities—being splashed with buckets of water, having their shorts pulled down in mid-court, and losing either by hysterically large margins or a single basket.

Ownership of the Generals eventually passed to Klotz’s son-in-law, John Ferrari, who kept up the clownish tradition for the last 20 years, Posnanski writes. The Globetrotters, now a franchise of several touring teams, will have to find new patsies. The Generals played their final game at a convention center in Wildwood, N.J. Final score: Harlem 90, Washington 88.

I Thought The Generals Were Due! from Homer Nixon on Vimeo.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.