If you are a sports fan, you likely know Ernie Johnson, Jr., as one of the most recognizable voices in sports. As the three-time Emmy-winning host of TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” Ernie has the privilege of taking the stage with some of the biggest names in sports - Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal. Additionally, many also know Ernie as the son of Major League Baseball pitcher and longtime voice of the Atlanta Braves, Ernie Johnson, Sr.
While Ernie has always been open with his audience about everything from his faith to fighting cancer, he’s recently provided an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at his life in his new book, Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments That Make Life Extraordinary.
In Unscripted, Ernie shares his favorite memories and moments from some of TV’s most popular shows and broadcasts, as well as let’s readers into the privacy of his own home to share hard-won lessons in being open and slowing down to savor moments that really matter – what Ernie calls “blackberry moments.”
While many of these memories are laugh-out-loud funny and heart-warming, Unscripted does not stick solely to life’s happy surprises. From the adoption of their special needs child and his health scares, to the death of Ernie’s father and his own battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and much more, Ernie shares the gut-wrenching side of weathering the unexpected with grace, wit, and wisdom. Specifically, Ernie writes with authentic honesty about how he struggled to trust God in some of his darkest moments and how he came to “Trust God…Period.”
Excerpt from Unscripted:
Let me be totally honest here. It got messy around our house. While Cheryl could appreciate the step I had taken, she wasn’t there yet. I’m trying to clean up my language, trying to set aside time to get into the Bible, stopping by a Family Christian Store to buy Steven Curtis Chapman CDs and a fish for the back of my car, and she’s looking at me and asking, “Are you the same guy I married fifteen years ago?” It’s hard when you’re coming at something as pivotal as faith from different angles.
Kevin was in the middle of this, providing not only biblical perspective but also commonsense talk about life—our lives.
“Look at where you’ve been—these adoptions, the way you care for this special-needs child,” Kevin would say. “I’m telling you, your lives reflect the love of Jesus Christ more than the lives of so many people who have identified as Christians their entire lives. Let’s not get hung up on labels. Let’s just get intentional about your faith. I’m telling you, you’re living Christian lives, but you just don’t know it. And even though you weren’t paying any attention to God, he was paying attention to you. How’d you wind up at that particular orphanage in Romania, Cheryl? Ernie, why’d you immediately say, ‘Bring him home’ when your wife described this kid’s condition? Did those things just randomly happen, or was this the work of a Creator who orchestrates life in ways we can’t begin to understand? That’s how the Holy Spirit works, guys—gives you just a nudge, Cheryl, and says, ‘That’s the boy . . . the one with the blond hair . . . the one who can’t walk or talk . . . that’s the one.’ That’s the Holy Spirit who whispers in your ear, Ernie, ‘Bring him home’ at the very moment your wife is asking for an answer over a static-filled phone line from Romania. Now if your answer to those questions is that it just somehow happened, we need to go back to square one. But if you believe there’s a grand design being played out before our very eyes, then let’s press on.”
And we did. And we hit brick walls. And we obliterated some. And we agreed to disagree on some things, but on others there was firm common ground that steadied us, like the belief that this life isn’t all there is. That there is something more. That there is life everlasting. That this family we have on earth, which includes a Romanian orphan with a fatal disease, will someday be reunited in heaven. It was that eternal perspective that for Cheryl trumped all those things she was struggling to wrap her head around. Her spiritual birthday was March 25, 1998.
So now you know why Kevin Myers was the other person I needed to speak with. He had been a spiritual mentor to me for going on six years now. He made himself available for the multitude of questions I would throw at him and always had a scriptural basis to underscore his response. I valued his friendship. We were both husbands and fathers.
We were roughly the same age. I was a little older—he was a good bit wiser. He had a much better handle on the stuff that really matters, and I was trying to get there. So now we were sitting in a local Starbucks talking about how having a doctor speak one particular c word can pretty much knock your world off its axis, and was it okay that I wanted to punch God right in the nose? We began to unpack what I said I believed, going all the way back to that day in December 1997. Was this diagnosis going to shake my faith to its core, or was my faith going to carry me through this trial? Did I truly believe what the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, that in all things God works for the good of those who believe?
He didn’t say all things except non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Yeah, I believed that. We talked about Job in the Old Testament having his life turned upside down, yet through it all, though he openly questioned what God was doing or was allowing to happen, he never lost his faith.
“In times like this, you have a couple options,” Kevin told me. “You can turn on God, or you can turn to God.”
We talked about the ninth chapter in the Gospel of John where the disciples asked about the blind man by the side of the road. Why had this happened to him? Who had sinned, this man or his parents? Jesus’s response was, in essence,
“You’re asking the wrong question. It’s not why this happened but how God is going to use it for his glory.” I got that.
But the moment of that heart-to-heart talk in the middle of a busy coffee shop that would mark my life was yet to come. Kevin pulled a pen from his pocket, grabbed a light brown Starbucks napkin, and wrote down one word.
“EJ, this whole thing is about this: trust.” He held up the napkin to show me and then went back to writing. “Is it going to be trust with a question mark? Is it going to be ‘I’ll trust God if the next test at Emory comes back the way I want it to’? Or is it going to be trust. Period. You trusted him with your life six years ago. It’s easy to trust him when things are going great and you’re being blessed with good things left and right. How does that trust feel right now, while you’re looking up from this valley you’ve never been in?”
And that’s why I had to talk to Kevin Myers. And that’s why to this day, whenever I send an email, my signature at the bottom of the message looks like this:
Ernie Johnson Jr.
Trust God . . . Period.
Ernie Johnson Jr. has been in the game a long time. With one of the most recognized voices in sports broadcasting, he is a tireless perfectionist when it comes to preparing and delivering his commentary. Yet he knows that some of sports' greatest triumphs--and life's greatest rewards--come from those unscripted moments you never anticipated.
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Chalabala
Publication date: April 18, 2017