Q & A: James Brown '73

James Brown ’73—better known as “JB”—and Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw host “Fox NFL Sunday,” the most watched NFL pre-game show in America. In March, Brown launched “The James Brown Show,” a nationally syndicated sports radio morning show. His myriad hosting assignments have included two Super Bowls, two Winter Olympics, the Tour de France, the NHL, the NBA Finals and the NCAA basketball championships. At Harvard, where he concentrated in government, JB earned all-Ivy honors in basketball three times and was captain of the team his senior year. A winner of four Sports Emmys and the 1999 American Sportscaster Association’s Sportscaster of the Year Award, Brown was inducted into Harvard’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.

FM: What did you learn about yourself at Harvard and how has it prepared you for the outside world?

James Brown: Number one, I think I learned that while there are some more innately gifted people than myself, I could compete effectively by applying myself and recognizing what my strengths and weaknesses are and by playing to those strengths. In that regard, I am fairly diligent about preparing for an assignment. I try and be well-prepared before any event, presentation or assignment. Terry Bradshaw, one of my colleagues, is a very naturally gifted guy—as much as people maybe have a wrongful perception that he is a rube, he is a wonderfully gifted individual, an excellent speaker. He can get up and ad-lib. While I might be able to do that, I wouldn’t rely on it as a steady diet. That’s not my strength, and Harvard helped me understand that because of the wealth of talent that was there. I never go into an assignment unprepared.

FM: Who was your favorite professor and why?

JB: I enjoyed all of my professors very much, but in particular, Professor Samuelson, the economics professor, took a topic that was not extremely sexy or exciting and made it fun. [Baker Professor of Economics] Martin Feldstein [’61] was another. I still smile when I think about him because he was so funny and dramatic.

FM: Every Harvard student today is supposed to do three things before he graduates: Pee on the John Harvard statue, have sex in Widener and run Primal Scream. Did you complete all three tasks?

JB: No, thankfully back in the day our requirements were a little different. We had to swim the length of the pool in the MAC. We didn’t have those prerequisites to satisfy, thank goodness. Once you get a little older, you become a bit more of a conformist and become a little more mainstream: When you listed those, I was blushing, but swimming was the only one that frightened me at the time.

FM: What about sex in Lamont?

JB: (Laughs)

FM: You’ve covered a huge variety of sporting events. Which sport is your favorite assignment?

JB: Well, basketball is my love. Baseball was my first love, but basketball is my passion—that’s what I played and enjoyed the most. I enjoy that very much and it’s second nature to me. However, once you get to the championship level of any sport, there’s so much enthusiasm and energy associated with it that it makes each one pretty special. Heavyweight championship fight—there’s nothing like it. It is amazing, that kind of crowd. Same with the NBA championship. I’ve done games in the old Boston Garden where [the Celtics] played the Lakers. It’s just rabid there. The NCAA championships, because of the beauty associated with college sports and the fact that you’re dealing with amateurs in a real rah-rah kind of environment—there’s an awful lot to enjoy there. Each one of those sports brings a uniqueness that I thoroughly enjoy and I’m very humbled that I get to work them.

FM: Which fellow sportscaster do you most enjoy working with?

JB: The easy answer and an accurate answer and true answer is that I am blessed to be with two guys. Although they’ve rotated through the years, the core has been Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long. Ronnie Lott was with us, the Hall of Famer from the San Francisco 49ers, and Jimmy Johnson, and Chris Collinsworth has been with us for four years, but the core three I guess would be Terry, Howie and myself. And it has been an absolute blast. I try to enjoy each outing with those guys because we are participating in something that is unique in television in that from the first day we went on the air on the “Fox NFL Sunday” football pregame show, we have been the number one show and people constantly remark, “You guys look like you’re having a great time.” It’s like watching football in the family room on Sundays where everybody gets a chance to weigh in, and although they may get laughed at, it’s all in good fun. We laugh from the moment we get in that studio at 5 a.m. until 5 p.m. There’s nothing better. These guys are real professionals. Right now, I absolutely and thoroughly enjoy my job.

FM: How do you feel about John Madden leaving Fox?

JB: John Madden and Pat Summerall brought instant credibility to Fox. John has been a major resource I have utilized. He’s always been willing to share with me a lot of the insights and subtleties of the game. He is so passionate about football—he eats, drinks and sleeps it, and has been a tremendous supporter of mine. So, I’m going to miss him in that regard. I mean, he’s synonymous with football.

FM: What do you think about all the high school basketball players forgoing college to go straight to the NBA?

JB: I am philosophically opposed to it. I understand that there are exceptions like Kobe Bryant and a few others. But I am opposed to it because there is so much to gain through the college experience. The money will be there and they will go to the NBA much better people, a bit more mature and I think a bit more ready to handle the emotional, psychological and social challenges that await them in the NBA. So if one can strengthen him or herself before making that leap, I think it is all the better. I look back on my four years in college and I wouldn’t trade them in for anything.

FM: What do you think Harvard basketball needs to do to regain its glory?

JB: I think the challenge that is always going to be there for a place like Harvard is that it does not give out athletic scholarships. I’m not saying I disagree with that. It’s not like I came from a family where money grew on trees. We had to work hard. I took out loans, but I recognized that those loans would pay off later in the game of life. But in terms of going out for those top-shelf players, Stanford gives out scholarships, Duke too. But that always is going to be a challenge—that Harvard will have to compete on an equal footing with those schools. Having said that, I still think that there is enough good talent out there for Harvard to be able to compete effectively. If you look at Princeton, even going back as far as the Bill Bradley days, you can still compete effectively with the right coach and the right talent. As in the case of the business world, effectively marketing oneself is extremely important. In this case it is the matter of recruiting and selling Harvard.

FM: Are you ever asked to sing, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”?

JB: I’ve been asked, but once you heard me sing, you’d never ask again.

FM: Finally, why are there so many famous people named James Brown?

JB: I have no idea, but you can only imagine how often people confuse me with Jim Brown, the great football player—or the Godfather of Soul.

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