The big and boisterous life of Marina del Rey’s Sports Harbour founder was defined by immigrant grit, wrestling & incredible generosity

By Sweet William

Rahim Javan in his beloved “Captain’s Chair” at the bar
Photo by Cheryl Leach

Rahim Javan’s celebrated Sports Harbour was not only his bar and business – it was his living room. The kitchen is where he ate, as could his patrons, and he slept in the house behind. Nightly he would be surrounded by Santa Monica College football coaches, NBC news broadcasters, young wrestlers from Culver City and sports wannabes, all of them going over the day’s sporting events.

Eventually, Rahim installed a “Captain’s Chair” at the bar’s end, an arm’s length from the cash register, and greeted every newcomer to the bar with a robust, “Welcome, my Brother!” The greeting would echo through the beloved sports bar, and everyone would acknowledge the newcomer with raised glasses.

Yet Rahim said goodbye to the world, passing on June 26, 2020 at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital, due to complications from lymphoma.

“A legend has passed,” declared his college friends, business associates, customers, and employees of thirty-plus years. But in his passing, the “Persian prince” disguised as a wrestler, leaves a clearly defined picture of his accomplishments and life as an honorable man.

Born Feb. 9, 1938 in Rasht, Iran, Rahim, my last best friend, immigrated to Southern California in 1958, became an All-American wrestler at UCLA in 1964, U.S. citizen in 1970, a wrestling coach at Culver City High School and Los Angeles City College, and a fixture on the Westside working in the local bar scene.

I first met Rahim in the spring of 1964 at a secret initiation of the famous KELPS, UCLA’s first all-inclusive men’s group. Established in 1947, their emphasis on diversity would make the KELPS UCLA’s most desired men’s group on campus for the next 23 years. It was rare for a wrestler to be selected. Rahim, the first Persian, was the only immigrant of the 500 Bruins chosen to be a member of UCLA’s legendary ‘spirit’ group. Rahim, the wrestler, was known for his suplex (holding your opponent from behind in a bear hug and flipping them backward over your head, so they land on their head first), which produced stunning results.

“Rahim was highly coordinated, like a big cat,” recalled veteran attorney Doug Bagby. He had been a KELP in 1964 when Rahim pledged the Fiji fraternity, a wild band of brothers who inspired the movie “Animal House,” among others. Bagby was a bruising 245-pound football player. He bench-pressed 450 pounds. Rahim was a svelte 167. Bagby explained their match: “He had extraordinary balance; he’d grab my leg, he’d push me back. He was strong and quick. I was no match. He was the first Fiji to ever say, ‘Love you, my brother.’ He’d do anything for you. He feared no one. Only a fool took him on.”

That spring, UCLA coach John Wooden won his first NCAA Basketball Championship with an integrated team led by three KELPS. Rahim and I were there, wildly cheering them on. That summer, I went into the Peace Corps for two years, and Rahim and I lost touch.

Fifteen years later, our paths crossed again. UCLA’s KELPS were suddenly ‘born again’ in 1979. My Peace Corps experience living as an immigrant in Peru gave me a new appreciation of America’s immigrants.

Even though Rahim and I were from different parts of the world, our early lives were similar. We grew up during WWII. Daily, we saw the march of war; he watched a steady stream of U.S. military supplies travel through Rasht on its way across the Caspian Sea to Russia, while I lived at Camp Miami Beach in Florida, where one fourth of all U.S. servicemen were trained for the War. We both suffered from WWII childhood food deprivation syndrome, and as youngsters, became addicted to eating toothpaste.

As the 1980s began, along with the KELPS’ re-birth, I began to socialize more with Rahim. One time we double-dated to hear Krishnamurti, the Indian sage, speak in Ojai. In 1981 we attended the world premiere screening of the film “In Defense of People” by Rafigh Pooya, an Iranian filmmaker and the last owner of Venice’s Fox Movie Theater on Lincoln Boulevard. The two-hour film was made from Iranian newsreel footage that documented Iran’s recent overthrow of The Shah.

Rahim provided a narrative to me as we watched the disturbing events unfold: “That is the Crystal Room, in The Shah’s Palace;” he whispered, “see all the crystals hanging from the ceiling.” Film clips captured almost every American president laying their offering at the foot of The Shah, tightening the ties between America and Iran’s oil. The movie showed warehouses so filled with dead bodies of young Iranian protesters that they couldn’t be buried; instead, they were being stored on huge blocks of ice for later burial. I knew that night that I needed Rahim to understand what was really happening in Iran.

Rahim’s congeniality, physical strength and bouncer abilities led him to Stan Lee, a WWII Air Force veteran who owned a series of bars in Venice and Culver City. Like many, Lee was attracted to the ambitious, outgoing wrestling coach; together, they went into business. Rahim turned Stan’s shuttered Cozy Harbor into the Sports Harbour, possibly LA’s first sports-TV-only bar.

I helped decorate the interior. We covered the walls with sports posters, Rahim’s All-American Award on green velvet, a large photo of him as a young man performing a suplex, several signed sports lithographs, and boat models. Dozens of football helmets covered the exposed trusses of the old wooden ceiling. Opening Day — August 2, 1987 — we were ready to roll. I next presented to Rahim the costs of advertising in the local newspapers. He looked at me and said, “Ahhh, I’m not interested in ads.”

His way of building his business was to call out to everyone new who walked in, “Welcome, My Brother.” More than likely, Rahim would offer them a “shooter.” LAPD’s Pacific Division awarded Rahim an extra-large badge trophy, which he proudly displayed above the shuffleboard table that read, “Welcome, My Brother.” It felt like a philosophical statement. Here was a place where everyone was included.

His acceptance of all people made him all the more worldly. Customers jockeyed to sit next to the gregarious Iranian. Municipal Judge Hugo Hill of Compton finally won that competition when he announced the “co-pilot chair” was his. For years the two men were a great tag team. When Hugo passed, Rahim installed a brass plate naming “Judge Hugo Hill’s place” at the bar forever next to him.

Closest to Rahim for the past 39 years has been his companion Rhonda McMahan, who was there in 1981 when we listened to Krishnamurti. She shakes her head in disbelief as she tries to explain Rahim’s generosity: “The people Rahim helped financially were never entered into a ledger. He did not chase someone to repay their loan; he didn’t want to dishonor them. Having to remind them was not his responsibility. After he passed so many people have come up to me saying, ‘He saved my house’…‘he saved my business’…‘he saved my life.’ These are people I never heard of.”

Rahim was not so much Old School as he was Old World, where a man’s word was his currency; the reliability of one’s word determined his value. Rahim stood first and foremost for honesty. He believed a man’s honor was what defined him; money did not.

Rahim engendered loyalty in his employees through his generosity of spirit and his substantive support of their lives. Take Miguel Garcia. For 25 years he worked for Rahim’s Sports Harbour. He was hired in 1990 to oversee the emerging kitchen operation. Barely 20 years old, Miguel was a new arrival. He spoke good English, but he felt unsafe going home to West LA late at night without a car. When he told Rahim he couldn’t do the job, the Persian prince took him to his apartment in Santa Monica at 14th and Wilshire and gave him the keys to a white 1968 Pontiac Firebird convertible. “The hot 400 HP version,” Miguel remembered. “I told him I couldn’t accept it. It had too much value.”

Rahim replied, “Right now, the car has no value. If you use it, it will have value.”

Miguel told him, “No one has ever given me anything in my life.”

Thus began a lifelong friendship of mentoring the young man into the savvy manager of Rahim’s thriving Sports Harbour in Marina del Rey. This transference of authority started during the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the LA Kings. Miguel recalled the change, “I started teaching myself how the sports satellites operated. Every Sunday Rahim came in early to line up the TVs. When I took that over he got to sleep in on Sundays, which after a riotous Saturday night, he much appreciated. While I took over many decisions, because it was a cash business, he was always involved.”

Miguel was not the first to get a car from Rahim. Sculptor and Malibu High School art teacher Thor Evensen recalled, “In 1988 Rahim gave me my first art commission. He wanted a ceramic wrestler’s head for the bar and in return he gave me a 1965 red VW bug, my first car. I drove it to Santa Rosa JC and back. What a man’s man.”

Rahim supported artists from beginning to end. To celebrate Sports Harbour’s 30th anniversary, Rahim granted Venice muralist Gustavo Zermeño, Jr. a wall on which to paint everyone’s hero, Vin Scully, 12 feet tall.

Rhonda recalls her favorite times with Rahim were their trips to Baja. Every year, for about five years, they took a three-week vacation driving his VW van, which he called “The White House,” the length of Baja to La Paz, taking the night ferry to Puerto Vallarta, and driving back up through Mexico. “He was such a man,” Rhonda laughed. “[He] helped people, total strangers. Language was never a barrier. Wherever we went, Colorado, Canada, Mexico, someone would come up out of the blue and greet us, ‘Hey, Raheeem.’ It was an honor to have lived with him.”

Miguel Garcia now operates Sports Harbour – South Bay in Torrance at 5150 W. 190th St., a joint venture Rahim helped to create for Miguel as his twenty-year lease was coming to a close. Rahim stopped by every day to eat. Miguel added, “Even though he was part owner he always left a generous tip for the kitchen staff.”

Some fear we’ll never again hear, “Welcome, My Brother.” I believe we will. It has a happy ring to it, like it could stay in vogue forever.

Sweet William’s ‘JFK & RFK Made Me Do It: 1960-1968’ will soon be published by Peace Corps Writers.

(c) 2020 by Sweet William. Constitutional Capers, Venice CA.

INTERMENT: Greenhill Memorial Park, Palos Verdes, California

FAMILY: Rahim Javan is survived by Rhonda McMahan, his lifelong companion, and her daughter Dana; his nephew Nadar; former wife Nazanine & grandsons Reza & Kian, who reside in Montreal, Canada; and his siblings: Monir, Esmaeel, Vida, & Karim, who live in Teheran, Iran, and the eldest, Hassan, lives in Paris, France.