"One win, 17,000 defeats life as a Washington General - USA Trending Blog

"One win, 17,000 defeats life as a Washington General - USA Trending Blog

"One win, 17,000 defeats life as a Washington General - USA Trending Blog

On 5 January 1971, Louis Herman Klotz did something that no basketballer has dared repeat.

In front of a disbelieving audience in the city of Martin, Tennessee, the man known as Red broke one of the most sacred unwritten rules in sport. As player-coach for the Washington Generals, Klotz shot the winning basket against the Harlem Globetrotters.

Everybody knows the Generals aren't supposed to beat the Globetrotters.

"They looked at us like we'd just killed Santa," Klotz would claim, as jeers rang around the university gymnasium.

Over more than 50 years since, the Globetrotters have been ruthless in meting out their revenge. To the unmistakable melody of Sweet Georgia Brown, they've showboated their way to victory at the expense of hapless Generals who've never again beaten their illustrious opponents.

In contrast to the universal adulation enjoyed by the Globetrotters, those wearing the Generals' infamously unsuccessful green jerseys are booed, ridiculed, and dunked on during defeat, after defeat, after defeat.

They are the rarest of sporting commodities: the underdogs you're not supposed to root for. So why would anyone want to play for the Washington Generals?

"I had the time of my life playing with this team," recalls Antoine Maddox, a Generals shooting guard between 2007 and 2010. "You're travelling with one of the most famous teams in the world. That's pretty awesome."

Maddox's first memory of the Washington Generals was on a career placement day at his high school in LaGrange, Georgia. Having told his teachers he wanted to be a basketballer, Maddox was given the opportunity to shadow 'Sweet' Lou Dunbar, the legendary Harlem Globetrotter. Before long, chasing Globetrotters shadows would be the eager schoolboy's day job.

"I went to a game and I remember looking at the Washington Generals and thinking: 'Man, I wonder how those guys got that job,'" Maddox says.

He'd find out soon enough when he was recruited at a post-college combine. The next NBA stars are often discovered at these open trials, though many players attend with more modest hopes of a professional career overseas. Those left behind are prime targets for Generals scouts.

"I still had some aspirations of going to play pro somewhere," says Maddox, who now works for a Californian tech company. "I figured at least I would be travelling and maybe there'd be some opportunity to get seen in front of some other teams."

The Globetrotters live up to their name, playing hundreds of games a season during a comprehensive Stateside tour followed by whistle-stop trips to Europe, South America and Asia. And wherever they go, their rivals follow.

"It was the best experience you can ever have coming right out of college. I ended up hitting 26 different countries in my three years," says Maddox.

Occasionally there are visits to US military bases. David Birch, who spent five years with the Generals, remembers high-security trips to Japan, Germany, Lebanon, and even Afghanistan.

"In Afghanistan, if you stepped outside of your base, you had to have a helmet and vest on," he says. "It was strict but very rewarding because you got to see overseas troops and provide them with entertainment. They were always very appreciative."

While Birch admits that nobody is getting rich from a rookie contract with the Generals, playing basketball on an all-expenses paid world tour isn't a bad way to cover the rent back home.

"I thought it was a great deal," he says. "I'm getting paid to come out, shoot some threes, and travel."

Caleb Kimbrough's fond memories of a season with the Generals include a game on the rooftop of the former home of the Philadelphia 76ers, and playing to a sold-out Madison Square Garden. He's proud to have played a small part in Globetrotters folklore.

"I really appreciated being a part of basketball history," he says.

Founded in 1926, the Harlem Globetrotters actually originated in Chicago. At a time when basketball remained segregated, owner Abe Saperstein - white, Jewish and born in London - added the Harlem handle to indicate to audiences that his team were black.

The Harlem Globetrotters would go on to inspire a generation of black Americans by regularly beating the country's top all-white basketball teams. In 1950, Globetrotters Chuck Cooper, Nat Clifton, and Hank DeZonie were among the first black players to feature in the NBA.

Having helped to break the sport's racial barriers, Saperstein's outfit no longer needed to beat the NBA elite to prove a point. Instead, they grew their mainstream appeal by ramping up the theatrics.

Saperstein wanted his Globetrotters to travel with a trusted foil capable of giving his guys a contest every night.

He decided to call a flame-haired point guard who, at 5ft 7in, remains the shortest-ever NBA champion following a 1948 win with the Baltimore Bullets. He was Red Klotz.

The World War Two veteran agreed to put together a crack squad of ballers and named his new franchise in honour of General Eisenhower.

Despite the symbolism of the name - that of a stuffy elite set to be humbled by anti-establishment mavericks it was likely unintentional on Klotz's part.

He preferred to describe his team as the Ginger Rogers to the Globetrotters' Fred Astaire, and in 1952, the Washington Generals began their decades-long dance with their Harlem foes.

But, by the time their founder shot that controversial winner as a sprightly 50-year-old in 1971, any notion of the Generals being considered exceptional players in their own right had long diminished.

Even the occasional rebrand, to aliases including New Jersey Reds and New York Nationals, failed to prevent them from becoming a pop culture synonym for luckless losers.

And it continues to this day.