Moments before the Cleveland Cavaliers tipped off Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, LeBron James made his way toward the sidelines. He was seeking out a fan.
There in attendance courtside was Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown. James glided toward Brown, clasped his hands together and bowed in Brown’s direction, honoring the last Cleveland superstar athlete to deliver the city a title 51 years ago.
Brown was overcome with the chills from James’ brief but powerful gesture.
“It was one of my greatest sports moments,” Brown said. “It really was. I’m not a basketball player. I had one of the greatest seats on earth. I had no concept that LeBron even knew I was at the game. And when he made his gesture, it was just a great thing for an old guy.
“I’m 79 years old. One of the great things about age is about the young people behind you and the way they give you respect. It’s so important. When a superstar like LeBron in this day and age can take a moment to recognize you; that’s about as good as it gets. And what he did on the court – LeBron is magnificent.”
Like nearly every Cleveland sports fan, Brown can sense the championship fight and heart from these Cavaliers. Dressed in a snazzy black suit, Brown was on the edge of his seat as the Cavs hung on for the 96-91 victory – behind 40 points from James. And he saw the city of Cleveland like he hasn’t seen it in decades.
“I saw guys play team ball and I saw hustle,” Brown said. “These guys are digging down deep inside. They might not have all the talent and they’re shorthanded, but they gave it everything they had.
“You know the city and the fans are hungry and ready. Those people are crazy but the way it should be. People got outside of themselves. They enjoyed the moment so much, they forget themselves. That’s very rare people get that way at a sporting event. These guys can really bring a championship to Cleveland.”
As the telephone conversation winded down, Brown made it a point to bring up LeBron one more time. Perhaps no other former Cleveland athlete can relate to King James as much as Brown can. These types of heroic sports stories are the kind Disney makes into movies.
“The load he’s carrying now, the expectations we have of him, it brings out the best in him,” Brown said. “It takes everything he has for him to live up to what we want him to do – win it all. He sets an example to any superstar that is selfish. He’s the most unselfish guy, like Magic Johnson, like Larry Bird. That’s the best trait.”
Brown has a prior commitment that will keep him from attending Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena, but should the Cavs keep this pace and deliver a title to Cleveland, the Browns running back will be back for the championship parade.
“They’ll be running in the streets,” Brown said. “They’re going to let it all hang out. 1964 is too long ago. Cleveland’s got the right scenario. The chosen son has come back home to deliver the championship.”