The Harlem Globetrotters touring opponents, the Washington Generals, once played NBA teams … and even won a few games!
The March 20, 1988 edition of the Allentown, Pennsylvania newspaper, The Morning Call , quotes Washington Generals founder, owner and former player Red Klotz:
"In fact, we've beaten every other team we've met except the Globetrotters. We beat the St. Louis Hawks and Philadelphia Warriors from the NBA, so they put a rule in to stop outside exhibitions.”
So when did they play? When did they win?
In Rich Westcott’s biography on Philadelphia Warriors owner Eddie Gottlieb, “The Mogul”, he further quotes Klotz:
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 details of that game are unclear but I suspect it happened during the 1952-53 season. At the time, it was common for the Globetrotters to travel with assorted combinations of opposition teams such as the Generals, Philadelphia Sphas, Boston Whirlwinds, Toledo Mercury, New York Celtics, etc. The preliminary game would featured a competitive contest for a pair of those teams followed by the Globies and a fourth team in the featured game. The Globies' opponents would rotate every night. In this format, the Generals would have played against teams like the Sphas and Whirlwinds often enough that their first victory should have come fairly early in the season. As it turned out, the Philadelphia Warriors were included in some of those early season twin bills. I suspect that Globetrotters owner Abe Saperstein’s 16% ownership in the Philadelphia Warriors helped put together this rather odd arrangement.
The Philadelphia Warriors opened the NBA season on November 1 at home with the Syracuse Nationals. They traveled the next day to Syracuse, NY for a rematch. The following day, November 3, the Warriors defeated the Generals 91-56 in Toronto as the preliminary game to the Harlem Globetrotters’ 60-54 victory over the Philadelphia Sphas. According to the Toronto newspaper, Neil Johnston had 18 for the Warriors and Benny Purcell had 16 for the Generals.
The Generals and Warriors had rematches the next two days in Ottawa. The November 4 results are unknown but the Ottawa Citizen reports the November 5 box score as:
Philadelphia Warriors 53 Washington Generals 36
Warriors (53): Paul Walther 10, Danny Finn 10, Walt Davis 9, Neil Johnston 7,Joe Graboski 6, Jack George 5, James Phelan 3, Zeke Zawoluk 2, Joe Fulks 1, George Senesky 0, Norm Gerkin 0
Generals (36): Bill Schyman 2, Don O'Rourke 10, Joe Guthrie 5, Jim Coyle 9, Bob Crosby 3, Red Klotz 0, Bill Carroll 7, Dooley 0
Those are the only Generals-Warriors games I could find for 1952-53, but I suspect there were more. One other interesting item that I did find was the December 30th Pittsburgh-Post Gazette report on the previous nights Globetrotter game …
In the preliminary game, the Toledo Mercurys defeated the Philadelphia Warriors 69-39.
During the 1954-55 season, I found the Warriors-Generals playing on November 11 in Ottawa (results unknown). On the next day, the Philadelphia Warriors defeat the New York Celtics 54-37 in Montreal.
For the 1955-56 season, I discovered that the Warriors again played the New York Celtics in Bangor, Maine (results unknown) on October 10. Also, on November 18, the St. Louis Hawks played the Washington Generals in Charlotte, NC (results unknown).
I didn’t find anymore of these type of matchups after the 1955-56, possibly that’s when the NBA prohibited them.
I would be interested to hear if anyone else has details on early Washington Generals vs NBA team games.
During my research, I did find two Washington Generals victories. Being something of a rarity, I thought that they were noteworthy even though they weren’t against the Trotters or the NBA:
Generals defeated the Boston Whirlwinds on 11/13/55 at the Teaneck Armory in New York and again on 12/21/55 at Spencer, South Dakota. Neither score is known.
It would be interesting to document other Washington General victories.