We live in a world that all too often operates under the overriding template of self-promotion, embracing a "hooray for me" attitude, and which measures success in increasingly small timeframes dotted with markers of temporal value.
Millions of viewers know James Brown as a sports commentator and former athlete. With ROLE OF A LIFETIME, James reveals a different side of his character. Brown rose from a middle-class home to earn a scholarshipto Havard and a chance at a professional sports career before moving on to broadcast jouranlism. Part memoir and part self-help, this book draws on James' lessons from his faith and life experiences to guide readers to find fulfillment and significance. He offers values and encouragment to others of all generations, assisting them in their search for meaning in navigating a world that increasingly promotes transient values, if any at all. His message that shortcuts and gimmicks are counterproductive to a person's success provides hope that there is a God who cares about them and their futures.
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Role of a LifetimeReflections on Faith, Family, and Significant Living
By Brown, James
FaithWordsCopyright © 2010 Brown, James
All right reserved.
ONE SAVANNAH SUMMER
You’re either progressing as a player or regressing.
This was not how it was supposed to be. The noise from the landing gear grinding into place pierced the fog of my thoughts. The blanket of clouds outside the window of our plane stretched as far as I could see and was thick, hiding my next stop. In a few minutes we would break through them and touch down—then what?
How would I explain it to my family, and all my friends? What would I say to all those people who watched, supported, and cheered me on for so long? What would I say to all the kids in the neighborhood who had looked up to me for all those years? How could I look at myself in the mirror?
And Coach Wootten. What would he say? Every step and stop along the way of my basketball career had been up. Oh, there had been some setbacks, some roadblocks, some learning moments—always the temporary hinderances of hard work, and always followed by more success. More wins. More people who noticed my athletic ability and progress. My potential to play on a bigger stage was becoming clear. Basketball would be my ticket to a successful, fulfilling, and meaningful life.
No more. What in the world was next?
I knew that this was where I belonged. This was where I was meant to be.
There were still six of us out on the basketball court. It had been a long workout and our bodies—white and black—were glistening and dripping with sweat. It had been a long training camp, but with the exhibition season fast approaching, we were getting in some extra work.
I was receiving an education in Savannah summers. They are incredibly hot, with little breeze, and even extended past what I had always considered to be a normal summer. DC certainly gets hot, but the grip of the summer heat at least starts to break a bit by September. Not only was it sweltering and still outside in the ninety-two degree Georgia heat, it was even hotter inside the Savannah Civic Center.
There were only sixteen or seventeen of us left in camp, and a handful of us were getting in some extra work after practice. It was a combined camp, consisting of the Atlanta Hawks veteran players along with a few of us rookies who had lasted this long.
This was both a culmination and a commencement. The apex of my basketball career to date, and yet merely the threshold of the true dream which God had placed in my heart, making use of the talents that He had given me. My professional basketball career lay before me: the dream of playing in the National Basketball Association with some of the best basketball players in the world. I felt I belonged. I was where I wanted to be. Shortly the twelve-man squad would be leaving the Savannah summer and its oppressive heat behind for the slightly cooler weather of an Atlanta autumn to begin the exhibition and regular season of 1973.
I had been drafted in the fourth round by the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and in the sixth round by the Denver Rockets. The Rockets, of the American Basketball Association, opted to wait until the sixth round because they—correctly—had ascertained that I would prefer to play at the highest level, in the National Basketball Association. I had worked too hard and too diligently, and sacrificed too many other things for too many years to not pursue this at the highest level, with the Hawks, even if the Rockets were optimistic that I would make the squad. There were no such guarantees from the Hawks, but frankly, as I viewed the situation and my talents, I didn’t need any. I was having a good camp, and like any competitive athlete, I had been taught that there was no challenge so great that I could not overcome it.
By all accounts, I was a leaper. I was hailed as one of the best leapers to come out of the District of Columbia basketball ranks, which helped offset my size—I am only six feet five inches tall. I would need every bit of that jumping ability if I was going to enjoy the long-lived career that I believed I would have in the NBA.
Some of the things taking place in that camp could be taught and learned. “Pistol” Pete Maravich was our star. He could do unbelievable things with a basketball—dribble between his legs and behind his back at full speed, and whip the craziest, unexpected passes your way, with mustard on them so you had to be alert or risk losing a tooth. He could dribble a basketball in each hand—two balls simultaneously—and beat me and the rest of the squad down the court, while each of us were only dribbling one ball.
Leaping ability, however, is something innate that inspires awe. Scouts looked for that, and other innate abilities that couldn’t be taught. Those were the things that could make the difference between championships and mediocrity. That leaping ability had made me a high school center, even though I was relatively short by basketball standards. Humorously, I often tell people that I began high school as a six-foot, six-inch freshman, but graduated as a six-foot, five-inch senior. (It’s conceivable that we may have “exaggerated” a bit in those early years.) As a center I had been a two-time high school All-American, and one of the top five prep players in the country, coming out of the storied basketball program at DeMatha Catholic High School in Washington, DC. In large part because of my leaping ability, that made me—by those who followed such things at the time—one of the greatest leapers in DC history.
Coming up I was tough playing inside—in the paint. I blocked shots and rebounded better than players far bigger than I was, employing a combination of what I would describe as ability and tenacity. My opponents might have characterized things a bit differently. But the truth is—I wanted the ball. I also had a very soft corner jump shot, which I could take out to the wing with similar success as well. I knew that in the NBA I couldn’t be nearly as effective in the paint at six-five, so I was relying more and more on my outside game. My shooting touch had always been solid throughout high school and I worked to make it as reliable as possible when I was in college, and was moved from the center and forward positions I had played in high school to a small forward and big guard in college. But, to be honest, I had a decent outside shot.
The rest of my game hadn’t developed as much in college as it probably should have, but I was a smooth, solid player and was establishing myself with an excellent camp as a number two guard, also called a shooting guard. I hadn’t played a great deal in the backcourt, and still needed to polish up some of those areas of my game—ball control and ball handling, penetration, the transition game, more movement without the ball, and getting into the flow better on the offensive side of the court. Still, it had gone well. So well that I was a three-time All–Ivy League selection.
And now, I had been selected by the Hawks in the 1973 NBA Draft. I was chosen after Dwight Jones of the University of Houston and John Brown of Missouri, their two first round picks, Tom Inglesby out of Villanova in the second round, and Ted Manakas of Princeton and Leonard Gray of Long Beach State were taken in the third round. There were twelve rounds then, and I was, I knew, competing with Ted and Leonard and the other players drafted behind me—except for Dave Winfield, taken in the fifth round, who they knew would go on to play baseball instead—for one spot on the twelve man roster. Counting the first three draft selections, the team stars Pete Maravich and Lou Hudson, and other returning veterans from the prior season’s playoff team, I knew that Cotton Fitzsimmons, the head coach, and his staff had accounted for eleven spots. That was fine by me—that still left one spot. I just needed one spot.
I was going to be the twelfth.
We finally finished our extemporaneous pickup game of three-on-three, and I stayed to shoot a few more free throws. My effort hadn’t been quite what it needed to be in college, even though I had done well, but I was making up for it during those first four weeks of camp. I had been steady, and felt that I would not only be able to hold up through an eighty-two game season but that, with hard and extra work, could improve even more rapidly and develop those other areas I would need to be able to contribute to the success of the team.
I finished my free throw time and decided to head down to the whirlpool in the Civic Center, to try to lessen the aches and pains that I would feel in my knees in the morning.
While I was in the whirlpool machine, treating my aching muscles, one of the assistants entered the trainer’s room and found me. He told me that Coach Fitzsimmons wanted to meet with me. This wasn’t unusual, by my way of thinking. Coach had been helpful all along to give me pointers on things to work on outside of practice, and now we were approaching the time to leave Savannah and head to Atlanta to start the slate of exhibition games. I showered and dressed quickly and headed up to his hotel room.
“JB, you’ve been a great guy, and it’s been a pleasure to have had the chance to have you with us for the last few weeks.” I nodded and smiled, but the smile melted from my lips as the realization of his use of the past tense began to sink in. My mind began racing, but I snapped out of it just in time to hear, “I’m going to let you go.”
“You’re kidding me,” was all I could manage. It was unthinkable.
“You’ve got a great background, a great education, and I have no doubt that you will do great in the game of life,” Coach Fitzsimmons said.
“Well, that’s all well and fine, Coach. But I wasn’t looking to do any of that right now. I want to play basketball right now in my life. This is what I’m good at. This is my future. Help me understand how I don’t have what’s necessary to make this team.”
He didn’t have a direct answer. He didn’t have to—even though I thought I needed it at that moment. Whatever his answer—the deal was over. It was a matter of the numbers, he said. He simply needed to cut one more player, and I was that one.
I was devastated. Everything around me seemed out of place. It was surreal. There was no scenario I had imagined in which this was the possible outcome. Not one. I hadn’t dreaded heading up to his hotel room, because it was always someone else being released. It certainly wasn’t going to be me.
But this time it was me. The dream was over, already.
I couldn’t imagine what was next. The thought that I wouldn’t make the final roster had been unthinkable for me, when others were making alternative arrangements this summer. Now it was a reality. I hadn’t prepared for, I hadn’t even thought of a fallback plan for my life. College classmates were heading off to law school—no, they had already begun law school, as it was September. I remembered that I had always wondered if I might be interested in law school, but…
I’m not sure that I said anything else to Coach Fitzsimmons. He was wrong about his choice, I knew that much. He had kept a journeyman veteran over me, a solid player, but I was better. At least that’s how I saw it.
This was so inconceivable. I felt sick, and I could feel my face burning, my eyes beginning to well up. I wondered what I would say to my family and friends. I felt like I was in some kind of free fall, headed toward a future that I couldn’t even conceive. Actually, no kind of future at all, as far as I was concerned. Of more immediate concern right then was getting out of his hotel room before I started to cry.
My bags were mostly packed in my hotel room, as I had kept everything together in anticipation of heading back to Atlanta with the team shortly. I looked around the hotel room, trying to gather any loose items I had left lying around. My stomach was in knots, and I was having trouble thinking clearly.
I knew this was a disaster. That much I could focus on.
The Hawks intern drove me to the Savannah airport, where the franchise would finish its obligations to me with a one-way flight back to DC. He had made these trips before. Now he was taking me. We traveled in silence, the shimmering heat before us, the deafening silence of defeat—my defeat—engulfing us.
The plane trip home was silent. At least no one else on the plane knew what had just happened. It was not supposed to be like this.
Once I arrived home, I could still smell the stench of defeat all around me. Despite being twenty-two years old, a Harvard graduate, and having to share a bedroom with three younger brothers and a young uncle, I walled myself up in the house for the next two weeks.
Somewhere way down deep inside me, maybe I knew things would get better. I wanted to believe that something else I was supposed to do would begin to surface. I know now that God was still there, even in my discouragement, whether I was aware of His presence or not. He is there in our good times and our bad, I know now.
But at that moment, I was without direction, and without the energy or inclination to think about anything else. Between anger, feeling sorry for myself, and crying, I didn’t have any free time.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Excerpted from Role of a Lifetime by Brown, James Copyright © 2010 by Brown, James. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great book - bought it for my son, but wound up reading it myself first. Totally inspiring for any young athlete. If you have a son or daughter who is thinking of pursuing a professional athletic career - this is the book for them!
I am not a sport's fanatic...I know virtually nothing about sports, but I cracked the book open and in doing so I learned a thing or two. James Brown was born and raised in Washington. He accepted a basketball scholarship to Harvard, where he was noted as a three-time basketball player. He worked seven years at Xerox. Five years in, an opportunity arose for him to work in broadcasting for the now Washington Wizards. After Xerox he left to work at Eastman Kodak. When a CBS affiliate called and had James fill in for a sportscaster that was sick, he jumped at the chance, although he had never done it before. This lead to the door opening to many more opportunities. In the "ROLE OF A LIFETIME: Reflections of Faith, Family, and Significant Living" is chocked full of great quotes such as: "To carry bitterness or a sense of having been wronged within us only holds us back from becoming all we were created to be." Mr. Brown also shares personal funny stories, like the time he did not stop to smell the roses (literally)...his wife had dropped rose petals that led to her, and he was too busy sweeping them up so she wouldn't have to clean up the mess. Mr. Brown talks with great pride and love about his family and his faith in God. In reading this book, I got to see a glimpse into Mr. Brown's character. Although he may be a celebrity he makes it a point to talk and get to know anyone and everyone, always saying a kind word in passing. Reviewed by: LeonaR
I read the book and was so moved by JB's honesty!! The book is so inspirational and often amusing. He uses real life examples (and often very funny ones) to illustrate his points. The best was his interview experience with IBM!! Through all of his successes and disappointments you can see that his faith is what guides him in every decision he has made. The book is definitely worth a read and you do not need to be a sports fan to enjoy it or implement the lessons he talks about in the "game of life".
I use James Brown's book to 'check my arithmetic' for a productive life. The goal is not perfection, but to enlighten others to learn from mistakes as well as successes. If Mr. Brown has the courage to look in his own mirror as part of the process to becoming a winner, then I can, too.
James Brown grew up in Washington, D.C. He attended DeMatha Catholic High School and later Harvard University where he earned a degree in American Government. Brown was also a three time All Ivy League basketball player. James Brown has won three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Studio Host. He is currently the host of CBS Sports' The NFL Today and Showtime's Inside the NFL.Role of a Lifetime is much more than just an autobiography of James Brown. The book relates Brown's plan for living a successful life. He had many mentors along the way to help form his foundation including his mother, father, Coach Wooten, his wife Dorothy, and most important to him, God. James learned from many people along the way and now serves as a role model for anyone wishing to be successful in life.Life was not always easy for James Brown. He loved to play basketball. He was very successful in high school and then later at Harvard. He dreamed of playing in the NBA and attended NBA training camps twice. Unfortunately, he was the last player to be released both times. But he accepted this both times and made the right decisions at the time to remain successful in life.While working for Xerox, James worked under Addison Barry Rand, a member of the senior management team who outlined certain principles for success. Brown took this list and refined it over the years to become what he calls his "Ingredients for Successful Living". The seven ingredients are: Good Communications Skills, Appearance, Personal Relations, Punctuality, Thirst for Knowledge, Being a Team Player, and Overcoming Adversity.It is very entertaining to read how James Brown learned the ropes of sports broadcasting and moved his way up the chain until finally reaching a hosting spot with Fox Sports. The overall theme here is learning from your mistakes and continuing to strive in an honest and moral fashion. Brown does address the thought process behind leaving Fox for CBS, something that he is constantly asked.I found this book very interesting and not what I expected when I first learned of the book. There is plenty of information about James Brown's life and background, but the best part of the book, in my opinion, is the overall blueprint for being successful and remaining a good person.
It was wonderful to learn of this man's faith in Christ! He has been in our home on Sunday afternoons for years. Wonderful to hear of his faith in Christ.