The year was 1199. King Richard I of England was suppressing a rebellion in his territory when he walked toward the castle of his rival. He came too close and ignored warnings from his knights not to get too close, lest he might be struck by an arrow being fired by his enemy’s troops. He smiled and said “I am wanting to see how our soldiers stage an assault!” Ever the adventurous spirit, Richard stayed until he was suddenly hit in both the upper neck, near his left shoulder. He went back to his tent, but the arrow had lodged in a place that caused infection. He was in the company of his Mother, and saw that his kingdom would end up in the right hands. A matter of hours later, Richard the Lionhearted, one of the greatest Kings in history, was dead.
Upon his passing, a contingent of Knights took his crown and possessions, along with his Mother, who held his crown. Upon their arrival, the Royals asked “Where is his majesty?” The queen mother took the crown and said “The King Is Dead.” The Lords and Ladies and all who pledged to Richard then took a knee and chanted “Long Live The King!”
This began a tradition that when a monarch passed away, his subjects and admirers would chant “Long The Live King!” as a sign of respect, but also a desire that his legacy live on. Long live the legacy of that King.
This past week, we lost yet another Lion great in Arthur James. He earned the nickname “King Arthur” James because of the immense amount of success he achieved on the field in Commerce, but also during the time in which he did it. He arrived on campus a small statured back, but left it larger than life. He played in many places where immoral Jim Crow Laws were still on the books, yet he thrived. He was named an All-American, yet was relegated to a segregated table at a banquet and left due to his skin color. He is the greatest running back in Lion history, yet never saw an NFL field.
He is the only skill position player to have never had any career records broken, and the only player in a storied history to have his number retired.
When we heard of the passing, Russel McLean texted me back “Long Live the King.” I bring the earlier example up because that is what James was due. Admiration, respect, and a sorrowful time of mourning, but a joyous celebration of the life that was Arthur Joe James.
Everyone knows his greatness on the field. Best rusher program history, maybe the best in Lone Star Conference history. Multiple time all-American, multiple First Team All-LSC, multiple awards and the like. We all know that 30 means greatness in Commerce.
But what makes him a King in my mind? It was the only conversation I ever had with him. It was after a game in 2015 when Cary Noiel introduced us via telephone, and we met after a game on the field. I pulled him aside and asked him about what it was like, to be a star Black athlete in a time when the country was still trying to find it’s morality when it came to race relations. Was he angry at the people in the Associated Press that told him he must sit at a segregated table on a night where he was supposed to be honored? Was he bitter that if might have cost him a spot in the NFL? He walked me into the southern end zone at Memorial stadium and told me these words, putting his hand on my shoulder and saying;
“Young man, you don’t have to be Black to know what it is like to have people treat you wrong just because. It is part of this life. Do I think I might have been in the NFL had I not walked out of that banquet? Maybe, maybe not. But I was not going to lose my honor and nobody was going to take my records and conference titles. Coach Hawkins told me this would probably happen, and it did. No surprises. All I can do is pray for those folks. Don’t feel sorry for me, feel sorry for people like that. They were not happy people, and it did not take my joy and pride in what I did on this field.”
That is what I was blown away by. This man did everything right, but was content to live the live that God had in store for him, despite it not being in the NFL, where he rightfully belonged, but his legacy lives on 40 years after he last carried a Football for the blue and gold. His reputation and legacy will proceed him and live on as long as Texas A&M University-Commerce is standing, and even if it is not.
Long live his legacy.
Long live his records.
Long live the greatest running back in Lion Football history.
Long Live The King.