Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Washington Generals Other Opponents

Most people are under the impression the Washington Generals have only ever played the Globetrotters.

In recent decades, at least to my knowledge, that has pretty much been the case. But what most people don't know is back in the 50's, during the Washington Generals early days, they actually faced several other teams in addition to their infamous feud with the Harlem Globetrotters.

The reason was that in those years, the Harlem Globetrotters toured under quite a different model then what most of us are familiar with. 

By the 1950's the Harlem Globetrotters regularly toured with not one, but three different teams each tour. Why so many teams? Because the Globetrotters weren't the only game on tap that night. 

Many of the Trotters games would feature a double header. The initial game would feature two of these teams facing off against each other in a "competitive" game prior to the Globetrotters game. After that game was over, the Trotters would then face off against the third team, who would take on the role of a "Stooge team". 

A "stooge team" would basically play the role fans today associate with the Washington Generals. Where during the game the Globetrotters would do comedy bits, which the other team would play along with to help entertain the crowd. The three teams would rotate who would play the Trotters, meaning in these tours the Generals would usually play the Globetrotters every third game. 

Some of the teams most often touring, in addition to the Washington Generals, were legendary barnstorming teams The New York Celtics, The Boston Whirlwinds, the Toledo Mercuries, the House of David and even Red Kotz former team The Philadelphia Spha's, among others.

There was even a team during the pre-generals era in the rotation that went by the "New York Nationals" for a time. Little did they know how controversial that name would one day become against the Globetrotters. 

Some variations would be used to this formula, as there were incidents of one team playing a college team in the pre-game, or even the Globetrottes playing a college team in the "featured game" with two other teams warming up the crowd. I even read reports of the Globetrotters and another barnstorming team playing one half each against a local college team, before playing each other in a featured game.

There were also incidents where NBA teams would travel in the off season and be featured "in the rotation", usually in the first game to help warm up the crowd for the, at the time, more popular Globetrotters. 

What is most interesting about this era of the Washington Generals history, is that in the games when the Generals were playing opponents besides the Trotters the games were 100% competitive. And more importantly, the Generals won several such games. 

The actual win/loss record during this era is pretty much lost to history. Box scores were not kept for all games, or even most of these games.

As such, how many wins the Generals got are pretty much unknown. It's almost certain even the few Generals still alive today from those games could tell you how many they won anymore, if they ever knew. 

But the most impressive win the Generals incurred during this time, possibly even a bigger feather in their cap then even their six victories against the Globetrotters, was a win against NBA team The Philadelphia Warriors. The exact details are unknown, but it is believed this happened during the Generals first season in 1952-53. 

Eddie Gottlieb
In the book "The Mogul", which talks about the life of Philadelphia Warriors owner Eddie Gottlieb, Red Kotz is quoted as saying...

He (Gottlieb) wasn’t too happy either when we beat the Warriors in an exhibition game. That was my first victory with the Generals. Eddie was terribly upset. He said “What the hell are you doing?”. I said, “Well, I have to beat somebody”.

The Warriors are not the only NBA team to have squared off against the Washington Generals, as the St. Louis Hawks also played at least one game against the Washington Generals during the 1955-56 season.

It is unclear how many victories over their various barnstorming travelling partners the Generals had. Red Klotz has stated that the Generals beat every team that has faced them at one time or another. A statement I have little doubt is true considering the very impressive list of basketball players where were with the Generals during the 1950's, which consisted of some of the best Generals ever. 

These days the Washington Generals may make their living losing to the Globetrotters, but once upon a time the world knew what many Washington Generals fans know today. That underneath the constant unlucky foils of the Harlem Globetrotters, are a talented bunch of players worthy of being called "winners".


Washington Generals vs The NBA

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