He has become the voice of the NBA. Now he is the lead studio host for March Madness, as well. His name is Ernie Johnson. He is one of the top sports broadcasters in America. He is a family man. But more than that, he is God’s man. And now he is speaking out – telling how he became a Christian.
Johnson is profiled in the latest issue of FCA Magazine. He tells the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ lead publication how his life was changed at the age of 41.
Twenty years into his studio assignment, working alongside Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal, Johnson credits his most significant success to his relationship with Jesus Christ.
This is how it happened. Twenty years ago, Johnson’s two oldest children, Eric and Maggie, asked him why they didn’t attend church as a family. After some discussion, Ernie and his wife Cheryl decided to give it a try. They began attending Crossroads, a nondenominational church in Atlanta.
The Emmy-winning broadcaster was moved by the first service he attended, when the pastor asked the congregation two questions: Who’s the provider in your family, and are you pursuing happiness or wholeness?
Those questions challenged Johnson. He knew he needed to be a better husband and father. He returned to Crossroads the next three weeks, and then asked the pastor, Kevin Myers, out to lunch. On December 10, 1997, at an O’Charley’s restaurant, he prayed to God and became a Christian. Cheryl made the same commitment a few months later.
Their pastor explained to them that even before they became believers, God was working in their lives. For example, beginning in 1990, they began adopting children out of love, empathy, and compassion.
That same year, Cheryl watched a “20/20” report on overcrowded orphanages in Romania, where thousands of children were being neglected. Five months later, in 1991, Cheryl convinced Ernie to adopt Michael, a three-year-old boy with special needs. Michael eventually learned how to walk and later speak. Two years later, the Johnsons adopted Carmen from Paraguay. Then in 2011, they added half-sisters Allison and Ashley to the family. Cheryl had met the girls through her work with Street Grace, a faith-based organization mobilizing community leaders to end the sexual trafficking of children throughout the United States.
“She has taught me so much,” Ernie said of Cheryl. “I wanted to play it safe sometimes. She had bigger dreams. You have to put other people first. This can’t be all about you.”
As his faith grew, Johnson considered leaving TNT. Should he continue his career after turning his life over to God? Should he try to find a faith-based job? He asked Cheryl what he should do. She responded on his spiritual birthday by giving him a large compass as a gift. Cheryl’s handwritten note with it reminded him to remember the day he found his ultimate direction in life – and to let God direct him.
Johnson ended up staying with TNT. He knew the platform God gave him would provide opportunities for him to share his faith. And God did just that.
Several moments for these opportunities stand out. First, in August 2003, after noticing a bump near his ear, Johnson was diagnosed with stage two Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. During that time, “Trust God – Period” became his mantra. He was candid about his cancer after the NBA’s All-Star weekend, and six grueling chemotherapy treatments later, Johnson’s cancer was in remission, where it has remained since. He returned to “Inside the NBA” in 2006, never missing a show. A year later, Johnson won the Emmy for outstanding studio host.
“God sometimes whispers and sometimes shouts that His way is better than my way,” Johnson said during his acceptance speech.
Years later, Johnson experienced hardship again when his beloved father died in 2011. About a month later, Michael, who has muscular dystrophy, was put on a ventilator to remain alive. Since then, Johnson spends most of his mornings caring for Michael, now 29, at their home.
Then soon after the most recent presidential election, “Inside the NBA” decided to discuss on air the results that left the country divided. In just over two minutes, Johnson’s commentary resonated with many and was shared millions of times on social media.
“I never know from one election to the next who’s going to be in the Oval Office, but I always know who’s on the throne,” Johnson said into the camera. “I’m on this earth because God created me, and that’s Who I answer to. I’m a Christian. I follow a guy named Jesus; you might have heard of Him. And the greatest commandment He gave me was to love others. And Scripture also tells us to pray for our leaders, and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pray for Donald Trump.”
Johnson sums up these opportunities to shine for Jesus – and the many more chances that will undoubtedly follow – with one concept.
“The Son of Man came to serve, not to be served,” Johnson told FCA. “Being a servant is where I find myself.”