After 63 years, Globetrotters drop rival Generals as primary opponent

ByDarren Rovell ESPN logo
Friday, August 14, 2015

The Washington Generals have lost their last game.

Generals' general manager John Ferrari, who started running the business for his father-in-law, Red Klotz, in 1987, confirmed Thursday that the Harlem Globetrotters had dropped the Generals, their longtime foe, as an opponent.

Ferrari said that -- much like the teams he fielded -- he wasn't even given a chance.

"I got a call about a month ago, and they just told me that that was it," Ferrari said. "I turned to my wife and just said to her, in disbelief, 'It's over.'"

In the past two decades, the Globetrotters have changed hands over and over again, the most recent time being in 2013, by Herschend Enterprises.

Many believe the change is a financial one. Instead of having to pay Ferrari to arrange for an opponent, why shouldn't they do it themselves?

"All great rivalries come to an end, and as we get set to celebrate our 90th anniversary, we are excited to take on a new opponent," Globetrotters legend Sweet Lou Dunbar, who currently coaches one of the Globetrotters teams, said in a statement. "We are looking forward to building a new great rivalry as we entertain families worldwide for years."

For his part, Ferrari said, "The Washington Generals were a very good deal for the Harlem Globetrotters."

Sixty-three years ago, Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein asked Klotz to create an opponent for the Globetrotters. While the guys in the red, white and blue did their tricks and made crowds of all generations laugh and applaud, the Generals just did their thing -- try to win.

It didn't always work. OK, it never worked -- except for a night in 1971, in Tennessee, when Klotz himself hit a shot at the end to beat the clowns of basketball.

"Beating the Globetrotters is like shooting Santa Claus," Klotz was quoted as saying.

The Generals got two others wins in their history -- against the Taiwanese National Team and a Russian Army team.

"I don't know exactly how many times we lost, but I'd say at least 16,000 is a safe number," Ferrari said. Losses started to pile up quickly as the Globetrotters and the Generals fielded three teams in each of the past five years.

As word started to circulate about the team folding, the fraternity of those who have played for the Washington Generals over the years called each other to share the news and reminisce about their time with the green and gold.

"I was shocked when I heard," said Antoine Maddox, who was plucked out of LaGrange College in Georgia to become a Generals player in 2007. He loved traveling and playing so much, he said, he stayed for four seasons. "I just think the Harlem Globetrotters can't be the Harlem Globetrotters without the Washington Generals."

Eric Belkowski, who played for the team from 2009-11, hated to be the subject of all the gags.

"I would make sure I wasn't at the spot on the court where I knew they would do their thing," Belkowski said.

The two other things that stick in his mind?

"Well, even though you knew what you were getting into, losing every night and two times a day on the weekends was tough," he said. "And man, the Globetrotters used to hack us, and we'd never get the calls."

That's understandable. The Globetrotters do, in fact, pay the refs.

Caleb Kimbrough, who played for the Generals for one year beginning in September 2008, said the fact that he was the "token white guy" meant that he was always the Generals player who got his pants pulled down.

But his highlight came at the United Center, when his Generals were up 17 points in the early going.

"We hit like 10 3-pointers. It was nuts," Kimbrough said. "I thought we were going to win."

They didn't, of course.

For the most part, the Generals toiled in anonymity, though Maddox said he remembers a time in Brazil that the fans mobbed the Generals after a practice.

"South America was different," Maddox said. "In some cities, they loved us as much as they did the Globetrotters."

The Globetrotters and Generals usually got along, though Belkowski said some players hated when the Generals showed them up.

"I remember we were on a military tour, and one of the Globetrotters, Ant Atkinson, was dribbling the ball, and I stripped it from him and dunked it," Belkowski said. "He wasn't a fan of that move."

Klotz, who played for the Generals and coached them, died last year at 93.

"I can't imagine if Red were around to see this," Ferrari said. "He identified so much with the Globetrotters and the Generals, I'm guessing it would have killed him."

Ferrari, who met his wife, Jody, when he was working for the Globetrotters and she was working for her father's Generals, said the hardest part for him is the way it ended -- that he didn't have a sense of closure.

"After all these years, we didn't even get to say goodbye," he said.

The team played its last game against the Globetrotters on Aug. 1 in Wildwood, New Jersey.

Yes, they lost.

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