Voice of Bullets dies

40-year career also included Colts, Orioles, soccer broadcasts

Jim Karvellas 1935-2007

January 03, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

Jim Karvellas, whose courtside play-by-play as radio voice of the Baltimore Bullets during the 1960s and 1970s chronicled such legendary players as Earl Monroe, Wes Unseld and Gus Johnson, died of prostate cancer Monday at his daughter's home in Wesley Chapel, Fla. He was 71.

Karvellas also had stints in the announcing booth with the Baltimore Colts and Orioles during a broadcast career that spanned more than 40 years.

Born and raised Demetrie C. Karvellas, he was the son of a Greek immigrant grocer on Chicago's South Side.

As a child, he enjoyed playing All-Star Baseball, a popular board game that included a spinner and created an imaginary game. He added a voice to the mix.

"When we were 14 or 15, we played what we called spinner baseball, and Jim always did the commentary after we'd spun the dial," said a cousin, Larry Poulman of Chicago.

Karvellas earned a bachelor's degree in business in 1958 from Northwestern University and attended Columbia College in Chicago.

In 1962, he began his broadcasting career in basketball as the voice of the Chicago Zephyrs, and when the team moved to Baltimore the next year as the NBA's Bullets, he came with it.

"It was my first really big league job. It was exciting for me being with a major league team. Although the NBA wasn't as big league then, it was big enough for me," Karvellas told The Sun in 1988.

"I've always preferred radio. I think a play-by-play man really prefers radio. It's like a Broadway stage. In TV, there is no play-by-play man; the camera does the play-by-play," he said in the interview.

"He was certainly a colorful guy and a spectacular announcer. He brought an awful lot of life to his broadcasts," said Vince Bagli, a retired WBAL-TV sports anchor and longtime friend. "He caught the spirit of a team and made its players larger than life."

From his courtside table in the Civic Center - now 1st Mariner Arena - Karvellas began using his trademark "bull's-eye" slogan to recount the action as players popularized the slam-dunk shot.

"In those days it was the beginning of dunking, and he described Gus Johnson's style of play as the `windmill dunk,' because of the way he waved his arms. When Gus flew cross the floor from the foul line and slammed the ball, Jim would say, `bull's-eye,' " Bagli said.

Beginning in 1968, Karvellas began calling Colts games and became the third member of the Orioles' broadcast team that included Chuck Thompson and Bill O'Donnell. A year later, he called both the 1969 Super Bowl and World Series on national radio.

When the Bullets moved to Washington in 1973, he followed once again, and remained there until becoming the voice of the New York Knicks from 1980 to 1992.

In addition to his broadcast duties in the early 1970s, he was president of the Baltimore Bays soccer team before its move to Philadelphia.

After an effort to bring professional soccer back to Baltimore, he was briefly sports director for WTTG-TV in Washington, and from 1976 to 1980 was the voice of the North American Soccer League's New York Cosmos.

"There was always an undercurrent of enthusiasm when he was on the air because he loved the game. And he had that deep resonant voice. You can be a great technician but you have to have that voice," Frank Deford, senior writer for Sports Illustrated and National Public Radio commentator, said yesterday. "Jimmy was the real deal. He was the total package."

Karvellas provided NBA basketball play-by-play for CBS radio from 1978 to 1986, and was host of the USA Network's NBA Game of the Week from 1979 to 1981.

He also did commentary or was host of 26 nationally televised broadcasts of PGA and LPGA matches, including the Kemper Open and Ryder Cup. He covered NASCAR races, too.

"As a sports announcer, you may be better at one or the other depending on your style. But doing all those sports made me more professional," Karvellas told the St. Petersburg Times in 2002. "You learn how to open and close events, fill time during delays in auto races, so those were all really important in helping mold me as an announcer."

John Cirillo, a New York public relations executive and former Knicks vice president, said: "He was a true sports icon and one of the most knowledgeable sports guys around. He called a great game but also gave great insight.

"Jim was loved by the players and Knicks fans. He was a true gentleman and never put on airs. He always treated everyone with respect and love, and I think he belongs in the Basketball Hall of Fame."

A former resident of Timonium and Ocean City, where he established an annual celebrity golf tournament in the late 1980s, Karvellas moved to Tampa after the 1997 death of his wife of 38 years, the former Lorie Hirst.

He continued to work as the host of Beyond the Game, a weekly syndicated radio show based at WDAE-AM in Tampa.

"Golf and sports. With him it was 24/7," said his daughter, Jamie A. Karvellas of Wesley Chapel, one of the show's producers. Talking sports and doing his shows was all-consuming. He didn't have time for anything else."

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

Also surviving are a son, Chris D. Karvellas of Richmond, Va.; a brother, Peter C. Karvellas of Bedminster, N.J.; a sister, Becky Russo of Chicago; and five grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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