Shaq and Charles Barkley, along with the rest of the Inside the NBA crew mourned the passing of a family member.
It didn’t matter that none of the former NBA superstars were blood-related to fellow broadcaster Ernie Johnson. When Johnson’s son, Michael, died late last month, his close friends like Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal felt the loss, too. The heart doesn’t care whether someone is related by blood or friendship.
“We’re hurting right now because Ernie is a brother,” Shaq said. “He’s more than a brother to me. We looked up to him. When I got the text that day, it just hurt. I’m still kind of hurt from my sister passing from COVID, and I’m trying to get over that. To see a great man like this hurt, it just makes all of us hurt.”
The NBA on TNT tweeted a video clip of Shaq and Sir Charles remembering Michael, who was 33.
Shaq Said That As a Kid, He Wanted Ernie Johnson’s Approval
Shaq said that growing up, he coveted the approval of three men. Two of them were former coaches and broadcasters Dick Vitale and Bill Raftery. The other was Ernie Johnson, the long-time NBA voice for Turner Broadcasting. Shaq talked of his memories of meeting Michael.
Johnson and his wife, Cheryl, have six children. Four of them, including Michael, were adopted. In 2019, Johnson gave a speech and included details on how Michael came to be part of the family. Johnson’s wife flew to Romania and discovered Michael at an orphanage. He was 3. His birth parents abandoned their special needs son in a park. And in his young life, Michael had spent only one day outside in the sunshine.
“We wanted to give some kid a chance that he didn’t have or she didn’t have,” Johnson recalled. He said the first child his wife found was Michael. A woman who worked at the orphanage suggested Cheryl leave Michael there. He was “no good,” the woman said.
“I remember what my wife said on the phone was that this guy’s so much more than we can handle,” Johnson said in his speech. “But I can’t imagine going through the rest of my life wondering what happened to that blonde-haired boy in that orphanage.”
Kenny Smith Said Michael Would ‘Light Up the Room’
Michael suffered from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He needed a wheelchair to get around and a ventilator to breathe. Boys or girls diagnosed with the disease usually can live into their 30s.
Along with Shaq, fellow co-hosts Barkley and Kenny Smith also paid tribute to Ernie Johnson and his son.
“That story just makes me appreciate Ernie and his wife, Cheryl — that just shows us what type of guy we’re working with,” Barkley said.
“To see Michael when Ernie and his wife would come around with him — we always talk about lighting up the room,” Smith said. “It’s a gravitational pull. Some people have a gravitational pull no matter who they are and how they are. Michael had a gravitational pull that you would move towards him in that respect. Ernie’s usually the person that we lean on — Ernie: this is the first time that you need to lean on us.”