LOS ANGELES: NBA superstar and Ohio kid LeBron James led the tributes to NFL great Jim Brown on Friday, after the legendary Cleveland Browns running back and civil rights campaigner died at the age of 87.
“We lost a hero today,” James said in an Instagram post that also featured a video of four-time NBA champion James, then playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, bowing to Brown as he sat courtside at a game.
“Rest in Paradise to the legend Jim Brown,” James wrote. “I hope every Black athlete takes the time to educate themselves about this incredible man and what he did to change all of our lives.
“We all stand on your shoulders Jim Brown.”
Brown played for the Browns for all of an NFL career spanning 1957-65.
He led the NFL in rushing eight of those seasons and retired in July of 1966 with a then-record 12,312 career rushing yards.
Brown’s excellence on the field was what first made the young LeBron James an admirer, but now the Los Angeles Lakers star known for his work on social justice issues says Brown’s efforts during the turbulent civil rights movement was his real gift to today’s athletes.
“If you grew up in Northeast Ohio and were Black, Jim Brown was an icon,” James wrote. “As a kid who loved football, I really just thought of him as the greatest Cleveland Brown to ever play.
“Then I started my own journey as a professional athlete and realized what he did socially was his true greatness.
“When I choose to speak out, I always think about Jim Brown. I can only speak because Jim broke down those walls for me.”
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the African-American athletes who attended the 1967 Cleveland Summit organized by Brown in a show of support for Muhammad Ali’s refusal to serve in the Vietnam War, also paid tribute to his civil rights legacy.
“Jim’s dedication to the fight for equal rights was a lifelong effort and something that enabled me to maintain our friendship for over 50 years,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote on social media. “The world and I will miss him greatly.”
Former US President Barack Obama also joined the tributes to Brown’s legacy.
“I was too young to remember Jim Brown’s playing days, but I knew his legacy,” Obama tweeted. “One of the greatest football players ever, he was also an actor and activist — speaking out on civil rights, and pushing other Black athletes to do the same. Our thoughts are with Jim’s wife Monique, his children, and everyone who knew and admired him.”
Brown’s transformational talent was also recalled by those who followed him in the NFL, including former Dallas Cowboys running backs Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith and Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders.
“There isn’t a man who played running back in the NFL who didn’t see Jim Brown as an iconic legend on and off the field,” Dorsett said on Twitter, where Smith posted: “My heart aches at this very moment after hearing of the passing of Jim Brown.
“He is and was a true legend in sports and in the community using his platform to help others. Thanks King.”
Jarrett Payton, whose father, Walter Payton, starred for the Chicago Bears and broke Brown’s career rushing record in 1984, mourned Brown’s death on a personal level.
“After my pops passed, Jim became an important father figure in my life,” Payton tweeted. “He was always there for me. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Sanders also pointed to the pro and the person in paying tribute to Brown.
“You can’t underestimate the impact Jim Brown had on the NFL,” Sanders said in a tweet. “He will be greatly missed. Additionally his generosity and friendship with my family is a gift that we will always treasure.”
“An absolute legend,” tweeted recently retired defensive lineman JJ Watt. “Rest in Peace Jim Brown.