At six feet five inches tall, James Brown, a recent Harvard graduate and college basketball player, had been selected by the Atlanta Hawks in 1973's NFL Draft. JB, as he is popularly known, was by all accounts living his dream as a rookie on the Hawks, soaking up all the knowledge and experience he could at the team's camp that summer in Savannah, GA. The team would soon be on its way to Atlanta for a series of exhibition games, and JB had every intention of being the twelfth man on the roster. With that in mind, JB finished his free throw time and headed to the whirlpool for some much-needed pain relief after the hard work he'd put in on the court. Little did JB know that his world – his dream - was about to change in a way that he'd never quite expected.
"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.