A story of the will: Ernie Johnson, Jr.

To understand me, you’ve got to know something about basketball.


To understand me, you’ve got to know something about basketball.

When I was a kid, I loved basketball. I would play all day, and on the weekends I would watch it on TV. But I remember, about halfway through my teenage years, TBS, one of our Atlanta TV stations, began broadcasting NBA basketball on Wednesday nights. And that is when I became acquainted with Ernie Johnson, Jr.

More to the story

One day I saw Ernie on television, but he wasn’t calling a game. He was shaving his son’s face. And in that moment he became a completely different person to me. Suddenly there was a lot more to him than sports.

The son that I saw is Michael, who is ethnically Romanian. He suffers from muscular dystrophy, and today breathes through a ventilator. In an interview for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ernie said, “He’s on a ventilator with a ‘trake’ (tracheostomy tube),” Johnson says. “We’ve all become very good nurses, everybody in the family. We know how to suction his lungs. He has overnight nursing, but during the day it’s me or my wife or my oldest daughter if she’s got a day off.”

“I just don’t have that… courage.”

– Charles Barkley,
about Ernie Johnson

Ernie Johnson, pictured with the rest of his crew from Inside the NBA: Former NBA players (from left) Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley

In 1991, Ernie and his wife Cheryl were watching the news and they saw a report about the hundreds of orphans in Romania that the world found out about in the wake of the collapse of communism. A few months later, Cheryl got on a plane to Romania, and brought back a 3-year-old boy.

One of his feet was turned in the wrong way. He had never been outside. The nurses said not to take him.

Cheryl said, “he’s so much more than we said we could handle, but I don’t know if I can go the rest of my life wondering what happened to him.” Ernie said, “Bring him home.”

The amazing thing about Ernie, perhaps, is not that he decided to adopt a kid from Romania in 1991 with muscular dystrophy.

The amazing thing is that he decided to do it again.

Ernie and his wife have 6 kids — 4 adopted, 3 with special needs.

Now, there is something really special about a person who decides to do all that, and then has to go work with larger-than-life characters like Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.

Doing something like that takes courage, perseverance, and a strong will.

I don’t know if I have a will that strong. Do you?

I sure want to.

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