By John M.C. Reilly
“I was blessed to grow up here in Redondo Beach in the 1940s and 1950s”says Constantine “Tike” Karavas, the docent at Redondo’s Historical Museum. Mr. Karavas, who grew up in the South Bay, jokingly refers to himself as “the biggest loser in Redondo Beach history.” That line refers to Tike’s days as a member of the opposing basketball squad that faced off nightly against the Harlem Globetrotters. Jokes aside, Tike is one of the friendliest and most interesting people you’ll ever meet in the South Bay. Despite having traveled the world, meeting famous politicians and sports legends, and having countless adventures, Tike has always considered Redondo Beach home.
These days, the fit, silver-haired docent welcomes visitors to the Redondo Beach Historical Museum, gives tours on request, and shares his deep knowledge of local history, often adding a bit of fun sports trivia. Those who visit the Museum leave with a new-found appreciation of the beautiful and historic seaside town of Redondo Beach.
I recently spent an afternoon at the museum with Tike. We sat and talked about what Redondo looked like years ago and what it was like to play against the Globetrotters. Before I knew it, several hours had gone by.
Tike Karavas first moved to Redondo Beach when he was in grade school in the mid-1940s. Born to Greek immigrant parents who owned a flower business located near the current South Bay Galleria, Tike worked for the family business until he was 18 years old. An avid sports fan, Tike remembers following Cleveland Indian baseball games on the radio while picking flowers in the fields. He graduated Redondo Union High in 1956, playing four years of basketball and three years of baseball. After graduation, he put his sports background to good use by working at a local recreation center, coaching Pony League baseball, and acting as recreation director at Beryl Heights Elementary School. Tike continued playing basketball for El Camino Community College from 1956 to 1959.
An unexpected event in the summer of 1963 changed Tike’s life forever. Tike was invited by another Pony League coach to play in a summer league basketball game. As luck would have it, he had one of the best outings of his life, scoring 43 points! A member of the opposing team that day was former University of Oklahoma stand-out, Bob Stoermer, who happened to be player-coach of the team that traveled with the Globetrotters.
After the game, Stoermer asked the 24-year-old Karavas if he would like to join the Globetrotter organization. Tike didn’t need too much time to think it over. Soon, after passing a formal try-out, he was on the road with Globetrotters as a member of the eight-man “visiting” team. The first year, the squad traveled mostly by station wagon, four persons to a car, each sharing drive time. Averaging 100 – 300 miles daily, the entourage traveled all over the United States and Canada, playing every day, with two games on Sundays. Tike earned $400 per month with an extra $5 per day for meals. They played venues as small as high school gyms and as large as Madison Square Garden.
Luxury it wasn’t, but it was great fun and an experience Tike would never regret. Meadowlark Lemon, Connie Hawkins, Leon Hilliard, Hubert “Geese” Ausbie, Fred “Curley” Neal, and others got the headlines. Meanwhile, Tike was the guy who chased around Curley, never quite able to steal the ball. It wasn’t about “winning,” since Tike’s team couldn’t actually win any games. It was about putting on a great show, says Tike.
The second year, Tike accompanied the Trotters on a European tour. He played in front of 50,000 fans at the Athens Olympic Stadium, performed in a bullfighting arena in the south of France, traveled behind the Iron Curtain in Berlin and Czechloslovakia, and toured through Italy, Turkey, Ireland and Great Britain. He met Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, the pope, and the King of Greece.
Tike’s favorite moments from the trip included meeting his relatives in Greece. In honor of Tike’s Greek heritage, the local announcer at Athens Stadium introduced Tike as having the same name as the Greek king. According to Tike, that night, the Globetrotters, instead of defending him, allowed Tike to score lots of lay-ups in front of the boisterous Athens crowd. The audience went nuts.
Tike continued to play for the Globetrotter organization until 1969, traveling to Europe a few times and also to Australia and New Zealand. His travels brought him in contact with a “who’s who” of sports figures, including Wilt Chamberlain, Billie Jean King, Ferguson Jenkins, Satchel Paige, and Rod Laver. But, wherever he went around the world, he was always introduced as “Tike Karavas of REDONDO BEACH, California!”
After leaving the Globetrotters, Tike’s journey took him to Las Vegas where he spent much of the next 30 years working with his relatives at Jerry’s Nugget Casino. However, Tike always dreamed of retiring at home, in Redondo. In 2001, he returned and answered an ad in a local paper for the docent position with the Museum. Since that time, Tike has worked hard with others to improve and transform the museum space. Today, the Redondo Beach Historical Museum is one of the best shrines to local heritage in Southern California.
Wednesday mornings and weekends find Tike interactacting with school children on field trips, teaching newcomers about his home town, and sharing memories with old and new friends. A few months ago, while working at the museum, Tike even ran into his best friend from sixth grade whom he hadn’t seen in fifty years. Tike recently received an “honorable mention” among the most distinguished alumni for Redondo Union High’s upcoming l00 year celebration.
If you have not visited the Redondo Beach Museum, be sure to stop by and say Hi to Tike. The Museum is operated by the Redondo Beach Historic Commission. Inside the Museum, you will see Indian artifacts, a horse-drawn fire wagon dating from 1895, and amazing photographs and information on Redondo’s past, including the Hotel Redondo, the old Bath House, and the Lightning Racer beach roller coaster. You will also learn about some of Redondo’s famous residents, including the Smothers Brothers, Demi Moore, George Freeth, and Charles Lindbergh. You may also find yourself in a lively conversation with Tike.
The Redondo Beach Historical Museum
Dominguez Park at 200 Flagler Lane
(Located between the dog park and the Morrell House)
Open: Saturdays and Sundays 12 p.m. – 4 p.m.
and Wednesdays 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.