WASHINGTON. On 5 January 1971, Louis Herman Klotz did something that no basketballer has dared repeat.

In front of a disbelieving audience in the city of Martin, Tennessee, the man known as Red broke one of the most sacred unwritten rules in sport. 

As player-coach for the Washington Generals, Klotz shot the winning basket against the Harlem Globetrotters.

Everybody knows the Generals aren’t supposed to beat the Globetrotters.

“They looked at us like we’d just killed Santa,” Klotz would claim, as jeers rang around the university gymnasium.

Over more than 50 years since, the Globetrotters have been ruthless in meting out their revenge. 

To the unmistakable melody of Sweet Georgia Brown, they’ve showboated their way to victory at the expense of hapless Generals who’ve never again beaten their illustrious opponents.

In contrast to the universal adulation enjoyed by the Globetrotters, those wearing the Generals’ infamously unsuccessful green jerseys are booed, ridiculed, and dunked on during defeat, after defeat, after defeat.

They are the rarest of sporting commodities: the underdogs you’re not supposed to root for. 

So why would anyone want to play for the Washington Generals?

The Globetrotters live up to their name, playing hundreds of games a season during a comprehensive Stateside tour followed by whistle-stop trips to Europe, South America and Asia. And wherever they go, their rivals follow.

“It was the best experience you can ever have coming right out of college. I ended up hitting 26 different countries in my three years,” says Maddox.

Make no mistake, the Generals can shoot. 

There’s no faking that.

“You can’t take away from making a half-court hook shot,” says Kimbrough, who has encouraged several of his top students to join the Generals.

While Globetrotters are often recruited for having an extraordinary trait – the short guard who can jump high, the towering centre who doesn’t need to, the speedy forward with turbo handling – the Generals epitomise function over flair.

After all, Red Klotz’s franchise may have lost more than 17,000 games, but he maintained until the day he died in 2014 that his team always tried to win.

Will it ever happen again? 

You never know. BBC Sport

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