Red Klotz is rarely at a loss for words.
A loss of games — that's another story.
As founder/field marshall of the born-to-lose Washington Generals, the South Philly-born and bred B-ball barnstormer has watched his team march into the abyss as they stumble, bumble and fumble their way to loss after loss to their only competition, the Harlem Globetrotters of comical capers fame.
Team sergeant-in-arms Klotz may be the only general whose battle cry is "Oy!"
Now, after more than 14,000 losses to the Globies in nearly 60 years, the 90-year-old's number is finally up: The now New Jerseyan's old jersey will be retired when the Generals and Globetrotters clash once more on Sunday, March 13, at the Wells Fargo Center, capping a weekend of area games.
It will be the first time in the Globetrotters 85-year history of tricks and treats that they are retiring the number of a non-teammate.
But although his number is being put in a rocking chair, the man who once wore it is not the retiring kind; he's still staying connected to the team he created only to play kamikaze co-pilots to the high-flying jesters of the court.
Basketball's No. 3 tries harder than Avis, but losing has become a win-win situation for the former South Philly High standout and Villanova Wildcat, who became the Jewish inverted version of Vince Lombardi. Winning wasn't the only thing; it became the evasive thing.
Not that the former pro player — whose career bullet points included playing briefly with the Baltimore Bullets — has always been on the losing side of the final buzzer.
Indeed, the last time the Generals won was in 1971, when a 5-foot 7-inch player singed the nets at the buzzer to beat the Globetrotters.
"It was as if I had just killed Santa Claus," Klotz said of his own winning set shot as a player 40 years ago at the age of 50.
But the Generals don't try to lose on purpose. "Whenever I'm on the floor," says Klotz, "I tell them, 'Show everyone how good you are!' "
How good he was: A former star with the legendary South Philadelphia Hebrew Association basketballers, Klotz is dismayed that article after article over the years reports that he bought the SPHAs from Eddie Gottlieb and turned it into the Generals.
Turns out that Gottlieb "took the SPHAs with him," owning them until the very end of their reign.
"I originated the Generals in 1952. I coached them, then took them on tour against the Globetrotters," says Klotz.
Still Playing Half-Court
Today, he laments that his "set shot is not as good as it was, but I still play half-court with college kids and older at the Jewish Community Center in Margate, N.J. I hold my own."
But 14,000 losses? He thinks a moment, noting that that figure may be an understatement of underachievement by Klotz's kluztes: "We could have lost more."
But who's counting? Fans turn up to see those loveable losers wherever they double-dribble. They've traveled all over — including Israel, in 1954: "We carried our own poles, baskets, laid down our own plywood for the games, which were outside," he recalls playing Zionist zone defense amid the sand dunes.
These days, his son-in-law, John Ferrari, runs the Generals (one team in Europe; one in the States). It was a marriage made in Harlem, he says of the court courtship of daughter Jodie and John: "He was general manager of the Globetrotters at the time."
Just how did Louis Herman "Red" Klotz, the Jewish flame-haired kid from South Philly, become such a net prophet, running the gang that couldn't shoot straight directly into the record books?
He had a touch for the game, he realized, when a stray basketball rolled his way while he was playing some touch football in a South Philly school playground.
"It rolled over to me, and I just tossed it up in the air and it landed in the basket. 'Gee," he recalls thinking, " 'this is easy.' "
As a kid, he recalls, "I always dreamed that if one day I were rich, I'd travel around the world. And, here I am, I've traveled to 100 countries with this team."
Indeed, after all is said — and dunked — this nonagenarian Washington wizard got his wish.
The General's become a globetrotter.