Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Washington General By Any Other Name

When you are to ask someone who the Globetrotters constant foils are any Globetrotter fan will tell you, "It's the Washington Generals." And they of course wouldn't be wrong. Since 1952 when the team was formed as a traveling companion to the Globetrotters the Generals have been their constant adversary.

But interestingly enough while they have achieved an iconic status almost equal to the Globetrotters, the Generals actually have undergone several different names in their existence. In fact in their long history, the Washington Generals have actually played under a total of 8 different names.

The Philadelphia Sphas, 1922
The first was obviously the name they originally played under. It began in 1917, long before they became the Globetrotters arch rival they were originally known as the Philadelphia Sphas. Competing in the Eastern Basketball League and then from 1925-1955 in the American Basketball League. The American Basketball League eventually went under upon the NBA formation and stopped competing in 1953, although they officially weren't cancelled until 1955.

However, the team which had been bought by former player Red Klotz in 1950 was saved from extinction when then Harlem Globetrotter owner Abe Saperstein, after losing two games to the Sphas asked Klotz to form a team to travel on the road and face the Globetrotters. The Spha's name was changed to the Washington Generals, and a basketball icon was born.

The Generals became the Trotters main opponent, and virtually the only team to face them. They competed as the Generals until 1971, when once more a name change of grand proportions would be undergone. Although the team still competed as the Washington Generals, they also formed four other teams. They were the Boston Shamrocks, New Jersey Reds, Baltimore Rockets, and Atlantic City Seagulls.

These five teams were in fact the same players who played on the Washington Generals. They just alternated the uniforms and took on those identities as they went from city to city, along with still competing as the Washington Generals every sixth game. This was done with the intent of giving the illusion that the Globetrotters were playing against multiple teams, rather than simply facing the same opponents every time.

How many basketball players have been able to say they played on five different teams at once? Or ever will again.

Interestingly it was during this period, and playing under their New Jersey Red's identity that the Generals scored their last and most celebrated win against the Harlem Globetrotters in Martin Tennessee. Although the number of how many games the Generals have actually won fluctuates (although has never been higher than six.) This win is the only one to actually be publicly recognized and has become a huge part of Generals/Globetrotter lore.

Meaning ironically, although it has always been acknowledged as a Washington Generals win, the only recognized win by the Generals was actually made when they were not playing AS the Generals.

After the 1971 season the experiment was considered a bust and the Washington Generals retired their Shamrocks, Reds, Rockets, and Seagull's uniforms continuing to once more face the Globetrotters only as the Washington Generals.

Copyright © 2007 by Jose Juan Gurrutxaga.All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
This continued for the next 14 years until the Generals adopted their most famous alter ego of the New York Nationals. At the start of the 1995 season owner Red Klotz "disband" the Generals and formed the Nationals. This was done under the pretense of hoping that this new team could succeed where the Generals failed.

In actuality, just like their 1971 alter egos, this was merely an aesthetic change as they retained the same players and managers. This "new team" went on to face the Harlem Globetrotters for almost 12 years. Unfortunately for the Nationals, success eluded them just as it had the Generals and in their over a decade of play, the Globetrotters managed to hold onto their winning streak that they had been riding since 1971.

It was during the tail end of their run as the New York Nationals, however, that the Generals briefly took on their least known identity. On February 17th in 2007 NBA Pro Dennis Rodman formed a basketball team known as the Bad Boy All-Stars led by Rodman himself that would take on the Harlem Globetrotters on All-Star Weekend.

The roster for this team was strangely never announced in any of the pre-game or post-game coverage. However, many people who witnessed the game noticed that his team mates looks suspiciously like the the New York Nationals. Most notably player Shawn Faust, who's "shaggy like" appearance had long been a running gag at Globetrotter games making him easily recognizable.

Although it has never been officially confirmed it has been largely assumed, with obviously good reason, that the Bad Boy All-Stars were in fact the New York Nationals under yet another identity. The outcome was definitley familiar to the Nationals as they lost their only game against the Globetrotters 44-64.

The Bad Boy All-Stars score against the Globetrotters

In 2007 the New York Nationals "called it quits" and returned to the name we all know and love, The Washington Generals. In October 9th of 2007, at the 369th Harlem Armory the Generals once more faced the Harlem Globetrotters narrowly being defeated  54-50.

Indeed, in their over half a century long existence, the team that has become infamous for their bad luck against the Globetrotters has worn many team colors and taken on many names over the years. But it is no surprise that when all is said and done there is one name they never fail to come back to. For after all, just like the Harlem Globetrotters are one of a kind, in the hearts and minds of fans there will only ever be one Washington Generals.



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