As The Harlem Globetrotters Ditch Their Archrivals, We Remember The One Time The Washington Generals Won
Growing up in America, there are certain things you take for granted. Saturday morning cartoons, year-round access to seasonal produce, quads, etc. You also expect -- nay, know -- that the Harlem Globetrotters will always beat their green and yellow patsies: the lowly Washington Generals. For the longest time, I thought this was a ruse. I figured the games between the Globetrotters and their doofy opponents were staged, because seriously, who has the dignity to play for a team that gets embarrassed literally every time they take the floor? Hell, even their logo is a guy getting dunked on by a Globetrotter. No joke.
Turns out, The Washington Generals are a "real" basketball team made up of real people who genuinely feel bad when they lose because they are actively trying to win games. That's why today, August 14, 2015, losers everywhere are celebrating the much overdue end to their suffering, as the universal symbol for athletic futility has finally been set free from its losery shackles. The Globetrotters officially severed ties with the team they've beaten over 16,000 times since 1917.
All but one single, glorious occasion did the Generals manage to finish a basketball game with more points that the Globetrotters. This is how it went down, courtesy of The Generals' blogspot fanpage. (Ya, we couldn't believe one existed, either.)
In keeping with the theme of "ineptitude," we have not corrected the grammar or spelling of this lengthy retelling of the New Jersey Red's (aka The Generals) 1971 victory over the Harlem Globetrotters in Martin, Tennessee. Someone should make this into a documentary. A very bad, poorly edited documentary. It is incredible.
[WashingtonGeneralsFan.blogspot] As the game progressed it became clear to the spectators that something was different about this game. For some reason the Globetrotters, always known for their gags were doing much less than usual. Yes buckets of confetti were being thrown and the usual comedy bits were there. But as anyone who goes to a game will tell you, a Globetrotters game is full of little gags all around. For some reason, there weren't as many of them that night in Tennessee.
While elements of a Globetrotter/Washington General (or whatever they are going by that night) game are definitley planned they happen predominantly during the times the Washington Generals are on defense. When the Washington Generals have the ball, and some parts of the time the Trotters have it, the Generals are allowed to play "real" basketball.
When the Trotters have the ball the rules mostly change. The Generals are expected, some would say required, to let the Trotters pretty much go where they want and set up their famous trick shots. They also have to "play along" when the Globetrotters go into one of their many comedy routines, or set up for the infamous weave.
Around 20% to 30% of a Generals/Globetrotter game is "real basketball". However it's that other 70% that has almost always guaranteed the Trotters the victory. The system is a well proven one, it gives the Generals both a chance to show at times how good they are to potential future teams, as well as keeps the Trotters from getting stagnant as they might if the Generals just flat out threw the games. At the same time the formula also stacks the deck enough against the Generals that winning is virtually impossible. Thus, the fans get what they want at the end of the night, the Harlem Globetrotters defeating their opponent.
But that night the formula was off. That night the Trotters toned down the jokes, leaving the game more often a case of the Reds and the Harlem Globetrotters playing a more traditional basketball game.
The reason for that has never been confirmed. There are rumors of some kind of dispute prior to the game, although they've never been truly confirmed. Maybe there was a fight that lit a fire under the Generals while giving the Trotters the feeling they had something to prove, maybe all that time on the road got to the Trotters that night, maybe deep down a part of them just wanted to change up the routine that had become almost second nature by that point.
Whatever the reason, the Reds happened to be on fire that night, and as the game progressed they slowly started to run up the score. Had the Globetrotters noticed they easily could have gone into their comic routines, any one of them virtually guaranteeing them points while slowing the Reds down.
Apparently the Globetrotters didn't realize that they were beginning to lag behind. Not surprising, as the score is almost a formality in most games between these two teams, especially as the night goes on. According to reports it wasn't until there were only two minutes into the game that the Globetrotters seemed to realize they were suddenly down by 12 points.
With the reality that they were in real danger of actually losing finally upon them the Globetrotters rallied in the final two minutes of the game, the New Jersey Reds as always going along with the ride and playing their usual "mostly for show" defense. As the Trotters began playing harder they managed to bridge the gap and with 10 seconds left in the game the Trotters manged to gain a 99-98 lead when the Reds called a time out.
Owner and player Red Klotz, by this time at 50 years old but still possessing his signature two hand shot, told his team that he wanted them to hand him the ball for the final shot. There have been differing reports on why Red made this decision.
The Generals have also been adamant that they are always told to take their shots and never miss on purpose. But in the case where it might have been the game winning shot it has been said that Red's real motive was that he didn't want to put one of the players in the position of deciding whether to make a game winning shot and worry about getting "in trouble", or miss on purpose which they are told never to do. So perhaps Red's real motive was to not put his players in the position of having to make that tough call.
When the game continued Klotz was passed the ball and made his shot, and just like that the Red were once more in the lead 100-99.
One thing I have always wondered, as have others, is did Red actually mean to make the shot? As I stated Red has reportedly told his players to never miss a shot on purpose. So I can't help but wonder if Red asked for the ball because he was their best shooter, even at his age? Or did he ask for the ball so he could miss the shot, and by dumb luck made it anyway?
At the end of the day, probably only Red and Got know for certainty the answer to that question. But Klotz has maintained to this day that he made that shot with the intent of scoring and was trying to win the game like he always does.
The timekeeper, realizing what was about to happen, did stop the clock with three seconds left. This gave the Trotters time for one last shot. While normally the clock would not have stopped it was not uncommon for the time keepers to be loose with the rules when it benefited the game, and in this case the fate of the Globetrotters winning streak against the Generals was at stake.
With the Trotters now in control of the ball it was passed to Meadowlark Lemon, legendary showman of the Globetrotters to make one final shot. Lemon took the ball down the court, met with no real resistance as the Reds did their job and left him open to make the final shot.
Likely at this point the Reds figured that it was once more business as usual when they let Lemon make his final shot, which would give the Globetrotters the win by one point.
Regardless, Meadowlark delivered the same hook shot he had made a thousand times before... and missed.
The timekeeper tried to stop the clock once more and give the Trotters a chance to score on the rebound. Unfortunately for the Trotters, this time he wasn't fast enough and the final buzzer sounded. Just like that, in front of a shocked crowd, the Reds had won the game.
Kids cried and fans booed. Klotz has in many interviews since likened that night to being like they "killed Santa Claus". Although, some spectators and players did later recall among the chorus of boos, some fans did cheer, likely realizing they had seen history being made.
Obviously, comparing it to some of the more famous upsets in sports history has to be taken in the proper context. Despite the many jokes made over the years about the Washington Generals bad luck against the Trotters, no one would dispute that the entertainment aspect of their games is clearly the reason for such a lop sided record, regardless of whether it's "fixed" or not.
Still, no one can argue that at least mathematically, there has never been a bigger upset. There likeley never will be another one. At least not unless the Generals win again.
Goodnight, sweet princes. May you get pantsed/dunked on by the angels at great big exhibition basketball game in the sky.