Tuesday, September 6, 2011

1955 Washington Generals - Best Generals Team Ever?

I have been asked when I think the Washington Generals have the best team. Or rather, who was the best squad of Generals ever to go into battle against the Globetrotters?

That is a hard question to answer of course. Aside from being just one man's opinion, it is hard to make a basis on. The Washington Generals play basically the same game, against the same team.

There are no stats or true win/loss records. Even the alleged 13,000+ losses they have suffered against the Globetrotters is more of an estimate. As no true record of when and where all their games happened has ever been made.

So it's all subjective judging which team of Washington Generals truly played well. At they end of the day they all lost all their games. Except for the few teams that managed to get that one glorious win.

Still, there are some teams during the Washington Generals history that do stick out over the others.

One of the first ones that springs to mind in many fans eyes is the 1987-88 team. Coached by Klotz near the tail end of his full time coaching career the Washington Generals. That year the team included Nancy Lieberman, a woman who needs no introduction and the only Washington General to make it into the basketball hall of fame, as well as future long time Harlem Globetrotter player and coach Donald "Clyde" Sinclair, it was rounded off by great players including Tim Cline, Cliff Payton and Barry Leskun.

The other one that you can't help but think of is the infamous 1971 team. The team was led by the aging but still playing Klotz and included long time General, Sam Sawyer and Roy Kieval and his infamous, but certainly false, story of Saperstiens rage being unleashed.

Whatever else people will say about the '71 team, they managed to pull it all together one infamous night. And score one for underdogs everywhere, in a game that has almost become a piece of sports mythology.

And that isn't even counting they spent the rest of the season making arguably the most famous group of trotters look good during the height of their popularity.

But as good as those teams were, this Washington Generals fan thinks the best group of players ever assembled was the team that played the trotters way back in 1955.

Among this team, which was a MUCH better team than their win-loss record of the time would suggest, included...
  • William "Bill" Spivey - One of the first players I profiled in my Top Players post and for good reason. This 7' tall center, one of the tallest Washington Generals ever was poised for the NBA and legend. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time cost him the greatness he seemed destined for. But had fate dealt a different hand Spivey might have preceded Wilt Chamberlain as the first great big man in the sport. He also enjoyed a short but successful career in the ABL despite his setbacks. 
  • Med Park - A general who despite his size went on have one of the longest careers in the NBA of any General. Playing from 1955-60
  • Joe Smyth - Beginning his three year reign with the Washington Generals after finishing a year in the NBA. 
  • Benny Purcell - Who was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets in 1952 but never made the final cut, finding a home with the Washington Generals instead. 
  • Harvey Babetch - A former basketball star at Bradley University, who was drafted by the St. Lous Hawks but turned them down to play with the Generals. 
  • Herman Schayes - A longtime Washington General in the middle of his 6 year run with the team. 
  • Red Klotz - The great one himself who had 4 wins against the Harlem Globetrotters under his belt, and two more to come. Red was also a star player of the Generals original alter ego, the Philadelphia Spha's. And won an NBA title while playing for the Baltimore Bullets in 1948.
This was not the full team, as others came and went or played on one of their alter ego's during the season. But these alone show what was a great team, who would have been a force in any basketball league. Even if circumstances kept them from always being able to show it. 

This team, in a lot of ways, is the epitome of what I love about the Washington Generals. To me this team represented what I always saw the Washington Generals as. Even decades later when I saw my first game.

The Generals are a team of very talented players, who love the game enough to put their ego aside and help others bring out their best. All for the entertainment of the fans. 

In closing I leave you with an old film from Converse showing the 1955 team against the Globetrotters, led by Goose Tatum. With some extensive coverage of Spivey himself. 

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