Ernie Johnson dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Thursday to discuss his life and career, including his Emmy-winning studio work with Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith.
Johnson does a lot of work for the show, but it doesn’t always feel that way.
“The work comes in the preparation for the show and kind of the daily keeping up with the league, (but) doing the show itself is nothing but fun,” Johnson said on Tiki and Tierney. “When you sit down and watch a game with Chuck and Kenny and Shaq, that’s pretty fun. And again, the way we handle that show with the producers and I, we’re in the production meeting but those guys aren’t allowed in. We don’t want them to know what’s coming in next or what we’ve got up our sleeve. But it’s part that and it’s part analysis of the game from three guys who have been in every conceivable situation you can be in in a basketball game.”
Barkley, especially, has made his mark on the show.
“He kind of changed the landscape of the sports studio show by saying you don’t have to just talk about the game,” Johnson said. “We’ve kind of taken that to heart over the last nearly 20 years.”
Interestingly, Johnson’s father, Ernie Sr., played Major League Baseball in the 1950s. In fact, he won a World Series with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957, besting Yogi Berra and the New York Yankees in a seven-game thriller.
“I wanted to do what my dad did,” Johnson said. “I wanted to play Major League Baseball, and I took it as far as the University of Georgia, where I walked on as a freshman and was told to walk off as a sophomore. And then you’re kind of like, ‘Okay, what are you going to do with your life now that the dream is gone?’”
Johnson, of course, decided on broadcasting.
“I knew deep down inside that I could stay in this game for another 15 years and I still wouldn’t be able to hit the curve ball or catch up to the 95 mile-an-hour fast ball,” he said. “And so, I think there comes a realization that you say, ‘Okay, now let’s get serious with what you’re going to do with your life.’ Originally, I said I’ll be an English teacher and a baseball coach. Then I said, ‘Well, it’s actually more fun getting into games for free and talking about them, so let’s go that route.’”
Johnson also discussed his new book, “Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments That Make Life Extraordinary,” which delves into numerous topics, including his battle with cancer, raising a son with muscular dystrophy, and the 2011 death of his father.
“There were a lot of layers,” the 60-year-old Johnson said. “It was really just a situation of laying out how I wanted the book to look, and a lot of late nights and a lot of early mornings where I would just dive in. It was pretty cathartic, it was pretty emotional, it was pretty exhilarating and draining – all those things. Especially when I’m writing about my dad. He was the best man at my wedding, he was my best friend in the world and some of that was difficult. But it’s as rewarding as I possibly thought it could be.”