Under Schneider, Globetrotters reaching new generation of fans

Under his watch as CEO of the Harlem Globetrotters, Kurt Schneider has never lost a game.

The record is a sparkling 3,456 and 0 in eight and one-half years.

“I have to keep that going. I think I have the best record of any executive in sports,” he joked this week, as the organization prepares for its 90th anniversary tour next year.

Of course, the Globetrotters are always supposed to triumph over whoever plays the role of the inept opponent — all the while entertaining the crowd with basketball tricks, pranks and playful entertainment.

The most famous of these opponents has always been the Washington Generals, so it was with a degree of sadness that the Globetrotters parted ways with the Generals earlier this month, ending an era.

“We’ve been playing them for so long. I think it was time for a new rival we could play against,” said Schneider, a Wilton resident. “All great rivalries at some point come to an end.”

The two teams played for the last time on Aug. 1, with the Generals, as always, suffering a tough 90-88 loss.

The history between the two teams goes back to the early 1950s. Over 60-plus years, it is estimated that the Generals have lost to the Globetrotters more than 16,000 times, with an estimated six wins. Their purpose was to provide “deliberately ineffective opposition” for whatever stunts or comedy routines the Globetrotters were doing, according to Wikapedia.

Their last win over the Globetrotters came in 1971, in Martin, Tenn., when the Generals played under the name New Jersey Reds (one of several alternate team names). According to accounts of the game, the Globetrotters lost track of the score as they dazzled the crowd with their skills, realizing too late that they were actually losing. Despite a frantic Globetrotter comeback, the Generals wound up winning, 66-63.

The outcome left everybody — fans and players — in a state of disbelief. Children cried in the stands over the fact that the Globetrotters had lost.

Since then, the Generals have tried but never managed to re-create that moment.

“The Washington Generals and Harlem Globetrotters rivalry we’ve had for 60-plus years, it will always be part of our collective sports psyche,” said Schneider, who now has to find new competition for when the Globetrotters kick off their 2016 world tour later this year.

“We’ve got to figure out who we’re playing between now and then,” he said. “I can guarantee that whoever it is, that team will be trying to win just as much as the Generals did.”

While saying good-bye to the Generals ends one era, Schneider is focused on looking to the future — paying homage to the organization’s 90 years, and updating the magic for a new generation.

“We’ve made it through world wars, depressions, recessions. We’re still as popular as we ever were. Last year was our best year in history in terms of tickets sales and revenue and profits,” said Schneider, who just returned from a trip to China. “We have a lot happening right now.”

Just as older fans may fondly remember such unforgettable players as Meadowlark Lemon and Fred “Curly” Neal, kids now are drawn to a new generation of Globetrotters like Ant Atkinson, Big Easy Lofton and Hi-Lite Bruton.

“I think the kids are showing they have a great relationship with today’s players. In the last three years, jersey sales in the arena have tripled.”

It’s an indication that, after 90 years and more than 20,000 exhibition games, the Globetrotters haven’t lost the art of putting smiles on faces.

“We always guarantee a fun time,” said Schneider.