Photo by Michael Ventura

When broadcaster James Brown gives his name to strangers over the phone—say, when he’s making a restaurant reservation—there’s a good chance he’ll be mistakenly identified as the “Godfather of Soul” (who died in 2006) or the legendary NFL running back (who went by Jim). Most often, Brown says, “the response is a musical rendition, like ‘Owwww, I feel good.’ ”

“JB,” as he’s known, has reasons to feel good. He is the genial host/ringmaster of The NFL Today on CBS, eliciting incisive observations from the ex-jock commentators—“The quarterback needs to get rid of the ball faster, JB!”—while harmonizing their egos. At 68, he also works as a special correspondent for the network’s news division, demonstrating a versatility in reporting skills that is rare among broadcasters.

Brown was born in Southeast D.C., the oldest of four boys and a girl. A basketball star at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, he went on to Harvard University in 1969 and was named to the All-Ivy League team before being drafted by the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. Although he was cut by the Hawks before the season began, Brown learned lessons that have served him well in “the game of life,” an expression he frequently uses to describe the world outside the hermetic environment of professional sports. His career as a sportscaster began in D.C. in 1984 with Home Team Sports as the expert commentator on telecasts of the NBA’s Washington Bullets (now the Wizards), and he soon replaced Frank Herzog as sports reporter at Channel 9. “That’s when I gave serious consideration to taking a ‘stage’ name,” Brown says. “But I stuck with JB.”

Brown is a large man—6 feet, 5 inches tall—and he freely admits that his weight has fluctuated like the stock market, adding that it is time to sell. Like reformed smokers who become zealots regarding their former habit, Brown came late to religion and has embraced it thoroughly. In 2009, he became an ordained nondenominational Christian minister.

Brown and his wife, Dorothy, have lived in the Burning Tree section of Bethesda since 1996. “When I moved there,” Brown recalls, “the first thing I wanted to know was, given my amount of travel, whether my wife would be comfortable there. …I wanted to make sure the neighborhood was welcoming.” Indeed it was, he says. They have a daughter, Katrina, who lives with her husband, John Walker, and their four children in Charles County.

Brown apologizes profusely for arriving 45 minutes late to our interview, and adds that it’s not a rare occurrence. “It’s my lifestyle, being on call for news as well as sports,” he says. “My schedule is very fluid. But it’s all good.” He makes up for lost time, rapid-fire paragraphs overtaking sentences, a lifetime habit of speaking against the clock.