Thursday, November 29, 2007

Interesting People: The Washington Generals

During the Patriots' game last week against the Bills, a commentator compared the Pats to the Globetrotters and the rest of the league minus the Colts (and apparently the Eagles) to the "Washington Generals". Who are these people?

The Generals were the traveling team that would face the slapstick basketball team Harlem Globetrotters in their exhibition games. They weren't based in Washington anymore than the Globetrotters were in Harlem -- that was just their name. They were the Moe to the Globetrotters' Curly (except Curly wins all the time). The Globetrotters had great amounts of skill, no doubt, but much of their routine consisted of clowning – spinning the ball on the opponents' heads, drop kicking toward the basket, even eating a fake ball made of pumpernickel. I remember Generals getting pantsed out on the floor (though their website declares that all games are indeed real competitive matches).

Their only cognates in the sports world are the interchangeable no-name wrestlers who lose to the big acts in pro wrestling, and even they don't have as bad a deal. Imagine that you're losing not just once in a while, but every almost night. Losing bigtime, and without much dignity left over. Granted, the staging isn't as meticulous as in a wrestling match, but still… gotta act. Not only was the Generals' job to highlight the Globetrotters' comedy by playing straight basketball, and to have a pretension of competition in the match, but ya gotta act. The eightieth time that Meadowlark Lemon shoots a foul shot, but *snap* the ball comes back on elastics, you have to act surprised. Then you have to act a little upset that the refs don't call the violation, but not too upset. You have to be a good sport. By the ninetieth time the crowd starts laughing at me because a Globetrotter made me look like a fool, I'd be tempted to sock one of 'em.

Being a General means an hour of hustling, and then being forgotten. You're an extra in a comedy, except you're on-screen for the whole movie. Nobody knows who you are, but you're expected to give it all and leave it on the floor. How do you end up in such a career?

Some interesting stuff about the Washington Generals from various sources:

  • The Generals were incorporated separately from the Globetrotters, so were strictly never under the same controlling interest – they could have gone their separate ways if they so desired.
  • Early on, Globetrotters' opponents would merely change uniforms from town to town, appearing to be five different teams when they were just five sets of laundry.
  • They were one of the earliest professional teams to have a woman player. For example, sometime actress Nancy Lieberman was a General.
  • In the 50s and 60s, the Generals would actually have a real shot (see below). All the clowning does mean the Globetrotters do pass up some good shots, and it would catch up with them. In the early days, the Generals played to win and not a few times, fans didn't get much of a comedy show.
  • In 1962, the Generals beat the Globetrotters.

The Generals were traded in for the "New York Nationals": same owner (Red Klotz), new laundry.

Profile of Generals' owner Red Klotz

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