James Brown: I was born in Southeast Washington, D.C., in the shadow of what is now the Nationals stadium. Later, my family moved to Northeast Washington near Catholic University. I attended Bunker Hill E.S. and Backus Middle School, although we called it “junior high” in those days.
KP: What did you learn as a kid that helps you now as a sports broadcaster?
J.B.: I was the oldest of five children. My father and mother taught us the importance of teamwork and sharing. We all had chores in the house. My chores included washing dishes, waxing floors and ironing clothes. But teamwork and sharing are important in my jobs as a host. The host has to make everyone look good.
KP: What sports did you play as a kid?
J.B.: I loved baseball. I was a big Washington Senators fan. My father and uncle thought I was going to be a great pitcher. I guess my coaches didn’t think so, because I mostly played the outfield.
At first, I was not as good at basketball. I was tall and skinny, and I think Coach Don Fugel kept me on the Backus Junior High School team because I was a good kid and a good listener.
KP: How did you end up at DeMatha High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Hyattsville, Maryland?
J.B.: I was playing in a baseball tournament at 16th and Kennedy [streets]. DeMatha Coach Morgan Wootten had come to watch another player. But I hit a bunch of home runs, and he asked me if I would be interested in going to DeMatha.
I later attended Coach Wootten’s basketball camp. I concentrated on basketball after I found out I couldn’t hit curveballs.
KP: What did Coach Wootten, one of the most-winning coaches in high school basketball history, teach you that helps you today in your work?
J.B.: Coach taught us it takes 10 hands to score a basket. There is the importance of teamwork again. He also taught us that love is the greatest motivator. He never cursed, and he rarely raised his voice. He considered himself a teacher.
KP: After playing at Harvard University, you tried out for the Atlanta Hawks and got cut. How did that make you feel?
J.B.: I went home and cried like a baby. I really thought I was going to make that team. But it was a turning point in my life. I realized I had not worked as hard in college as I had in high school. And while I played well in tryouts, you can’t make up for four years in a couple weeks.
I promised myself that I would never let an opportunity that I really wanted slip away again because I did not work hard enough.
KP: How did you start as a sports broadcaster?
J.B.: While I was working at Xerox [a company that makes copiers], I auditioned for the job of the [then] Washington Bullets’ analyst for their away games. I got the job. I enjoyed it because I missed basketball, and this was the closest I could get to the game without playing.
KP: Tell us something about your jobs that might surprise kids.
J.B.: Many people think we just show up and talk about football. They have no clue about how much preparation goes into the shows. It is much more than a 40-hour-a-week job. I have to keep up with what is happening with 32 teams in the NFL.
KP: What advice would you give kids who are playing sports now?
J.B.: Care about the sports you play, but be the best student and person you can be. That is what will help you in the long run.
Fred Bowen will be speaking September 21 at the National Book Festival.