Sports broadcaster Ernie Johnson wasn’t alone during the thick of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. He wondered, like all of us, what’s safe? What’s wise? What’s cautious? There was no road map on how to handle the outbreak.
Johnson, who’s known for leading TNT’s “Inside the NBA” crew with Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, and Shaquille O’Neal, doubles as Turner Sports’ play-by-play man for the PGA Tour. So it was odd when he wasn’t on the call for “The Match: Champions for Charity” between Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning that summer.
His son Michael was more important.
TNT’s Ernie Johnson Jr. and His Son Michael
In Johnson’s 2017 memoir, Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments That Make Life Extraordinary, he details his wife Cheryl’s trip to Romania in 1991 after learning about the country’s abundance of orphaned children. She came across a three-year-old child named Michael who was abandoned in a park at birth and couldn’t walk or speak. Cheryl told Ernie about the boy over the phone.
“Bring him home,” he said.
Michael’s first years in the United States were spent in and out of doctor’s offices. He was taught the basics of life from scratch and eventually made progress. During one trip to the doctor, Michael was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Ernie and Cheryl were heartbroken, but the news only augmented their commitment. The abandoned little boy in Romania deserved a second chance. The Johnsons wholeheartedly believed that.
Ernie made a point to share Michael’s story and how much he inspired him over the years, including with the Alabama football team.
Ernie and Cheryl have five other children in addition to Michael: daughters Maggie, Carmen, Ashley, and Allison, and son Eric.
Michael Passed Away in 2021 at the Age of 33
Johnson announced on social media that Michael passed away from his battle with Duchenne muscular dystrophy on October 29, 2021. He was 33 years old.
“This guy we adopted from Romania in 1991 and diagnosed with duchenne muscular dystrophy lived a miraculous life of 33 years. We lost michael johnson today and we’re crushed. But we also know we’ll see him again…and that sustains us,” he wrote on Instagram.
Johnson and his family received overwhelming support from the sports community. Turner Sports, the NBA, MLB, ESPN, Orlando Magic and Atlanta Braves all tweeted their condolences.
Johnson took 10-days off from hosting “Inside the NBA” and Adam Lefkoe, who hosts the Tuesday night version of the show, filled in for him. He returned to open arms on November 9th and Shaq, Kenny and Chuck shared their fond memories of Michael. Johnson also took a moment to thank everyone for their support during the difficult time.
Michael will always have the Johnson family’s love. He will be sorely missed, but as Ernie said, “Michael‘s in better hands than ours right now.”