Margate’s Red Klotz, basketball ambassador/pioneer, dies at 93

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Klotz Red Klotz in his office in Margate, surrounded by the memorabilia of a career spanning eight decades. Louis “Red” Klotz lost more basketball games than anybody who ever stepped on a court. Here’s the irony: He was one of the sport’s biggest winners.

Klotz, a basketball legend and longtime Margate resident, died on Saturday, July 12, at the age of 93, with his wife of 72 years, Gloria, and family by his side.

Klotz was the founder, owner, coach, tour manager and star player of the Washington Generals, traditional opponent (and comic foil) of the Harlem Globetrotters.  Klotz played or coached in excess of 14,000 professional basketball games – losing all but two of them - in more than 100 countries during a career spanning parts of eight decades.

Local author Tim Kelly of Ocean City wrote a book, “The Legend of Red Klotz,” that came out late last year.

“Red's story is amazing,” Kelly said Monday. “He’s had all of these adventures, and I tried to get as many of them as I could into the book. I just wanted to get his story on the record, make people aware of what he’s given to the game, and just do his story justice.”

Klotz lost to the Globetrotters thousands upon thousands of times, getting his shorts pulled down and buckets of confetti thrown in his face nearly every time, and falling for that hidden ball trick time and time again.

He lost basketball games in all sorts of places in all sorts of countries all over the world. He lost game inside and outside, on dirt and concrete, on sand and ice, on a battleship and in a jail.

“Long before the NBA was bragging about its globalization,” Kelly writes in the book, “Red Klotz was the most prolific foot solider in actually laying the foundation. The NBA would not be comprised of 20 percent foreign players, nor would it have such strong international appeal, were it not for the groundbreaking work of the Globetrotters and Red’s team, the Washington Generals.”

Longtime NBA player and coach Chris Ford, an Atlantic City native and Holy Spirit High School graduate, attended the launch party for Kelly’s book about Klotz at Cookie’s and Pete’s in Margate in January.

“Red’s been such an ambassador to the game of basketball, worldwide,” Ford said at the time. “The NBA now is worldwide, but Red and the Globetrotters and Washington Generals were the first to really spread the Gospel of Basketball throughout the world.”

“The Harlem Globetrotters organization is extremely saddened by the passing of Red Klotz, and our deepest sympathies go out to his entire family,” Globetrotters CEO Kurt Schneider said in a statement. “Red was truly an ambassador of the sport and as much a part of the Globetrotters’ legacy as anyone ever associated with the organization. He was a vital part of helping the Globetrotters bring smiles and introduce the game of basketball to fans worldwide.  He was a legend and a global treasure. His love of the game – and his love of people – will certainly be missed.”

klotz2 Red Klotz in his early playing days. Despite becoming a cliche as the lovable loser, Klotz was also a champion in high school (South Philadelphia) and in college, where he played on an undefeated Villanova team. And he played for an NBA champion - the 1947-48 Baltimore Bullets - who won the fledgling league's second title. At 5’7” Red is still the shortest player to win an NBA championship.

Though he lost to the Globetrotters more than 14,000 times, Klotz actually beat the Globetrotters twice, first in 1962 (in a somewhat disputed result). Then, in 1971, Klotz's patented two-handed set shot with three seconds left in overtime gave the Generals (playing under the moniker of the “New Jersey Reds”) a 100-99 upset of the Trotters in Martin, Tenn., ending their 2,495-game winning streak.

Up until about five years ago, Klotz was still hitting the hardcourts on Jerome Avenue three times a week, still running the pick-and-roll and beating opponents 50 years younger with his flatfooted set shot.

“Red has been a dear friend over the years,” Chris Ford said.  “It was always a treat to drive by Jerome Avenue and just stop and see him playing with the young kids, still shooting that two-hand set shot of his.

“It’s a tremendous legacy. Red has been a true gentleman. He’s always given back to the youth, he’s very proud of his Philadelphia heritage, and he’s been a resident of Margate for all these years. We’re all so very proud to be friends with him.”

Funeral plans will be announced this week, according to his obituary.

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