Despite all the personal accolades and places he traveled as a member of the famous Harlem Globetrotters, James R. “J.B.” Brown Jr. never forgot where he grew up.
A 1984 graduate of Fort Knox High School, he spent much of his life in Radcliff.
Friends say there was something unique about him, from his infectious smile to his genuine care for others that set him apart from most people.
“I hadn’t seen him for a long time. Then I went back for my high school reunion a few years ago at Fort Knox, and it was like we never missed a beat,” said Gary McClung II, who played on the FKHS basketball team with Brown and graduated in 1983. “We had kept in touch off and on through Facebook and, then when we saw each other, it was like we had been together all along. He was always true to himself and to his heart.”
Brown, 54, died Friday morning.
“His positive attitude and ear-to-ear smile was infectious,” said Dennis Daniels, who said he became close to Brown in the last 20 years or so through golf.
“They just don’t come any better than that guy,” he said. “We have definitely lost one of the good ones, that’s for sure.”
Brown spent seven years playing with the Globetrotters, traveling to more than 60 countries to play basketball. He was known as Captain Crunch during his 1988-1995 tenure with the Globetrotters.
After graduating from Fort Knox High, he earned a scholarship from Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, where he helped KWC win the 1987 NCAA Division II championship. A year later, he was named a Division II first team All-American.
In a story several years ago in The Gold Standard, he said it was hard to believe he was fortunate enough to play with the legendary team, that included George “Meadowlark” Lemon.
“It’s a lot of practice, but it’s worth it,” Brown said in the story. “One of the most flattering things still to this day is people asking me for an autograph or a photo. I don’t mind one bit. It’s such a great feeling.”
Brown left the Globetrotters after it was discovered he would need a kidney transplant, which he received, according to the news article. Following his playing career, Brown taught elementary school in Daviess County and eventually retired in Hardin County.
“His heart was genuine,” McClung said. “Anybody that got around him, loved him. He truly cared about people.”
At 6-foot-8, he towered over most high school opponents. He also was a state champion in the high jump at Fort Knox and played on the school’s golf team.
“Anyone that liked high school basketball knew how good of a player he was,” Daniels said.
Friends say he was able to build friendships easily by his easy-going nature and his kindness to others.
Mackenzie Deweese of Franklin said Brown made a major impact on her life, beginning when, as a cheerleader, she was sidelined in high school by a knee surgery.
She said she met him “at a time in my life where it felt like my world was falling apart.” She said Brown would attend Bowling Green High School games and would encourage her every chance he could.
“I wasn’t used to sitting out; I was always on the go somewhere cheering or diving and you told me, ‘There will be time to cheer once you’ve healed shorty,’” she wrote in a Facebook post. ”You continued to sit there and talk to me every game you were at, and supported me all throughout all aspects of my life...
“You were so much to me, you were not only my friend and mentor, you were my person and my family,” she wrote. “I’m at peace knowing that you aren’t in pain anymore. Just know I’ll always be your shorty. I know you’ll be my biggest guardian angel. I will love you always and carry you with me everywhere I go. I’ll teach the lessons you taught me to the kids I coach. Thank you for everything you’ve done.”
The impact of Brown’s death also was felt in Owensboro, where he endeared himself to so many people during his career and afterward.
“He was so very athletic — even at his size, he could do just about anything on the court,” said Wayne Chapman, Brown’s former KWC coach. “In my mind, I can still see him breaking away down the court for a spectacular dunk, and the fans in the Sportscenter rising to their feet in anticipation. He was a great complementary player to his teammates — J.B. just wanted to win.
“J.B. is so deeply associated with Wesleyan basketball,” Chapman added. “Even players who came after him looked up to him as a big brother, and that’s one reason why so many within the Wesleyan community are just heartbroken over this.”
Visitation will be from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday at Chism Family Funeral Home in Vine Grove. His funeral will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at the funeral home.