Shaquille O'Neal, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley pay tribute after death of Ernie Johnson's son

·3 min read
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 13: (L-R) Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kenny Smith attend the Turner Upfront 2015 at Madison Square Garden on May 13, 2015 in New York City.
25201_002_TW_0189.JPG  (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Turner)
Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kenny Smith attend the Turner Upfront 2015 at Madison Square Garden. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Turner)

A typically jovial "NBA on TNT" studio took on a somber tone on Tuesday in the wake of host Ernie Johnson's son's death on Friday at 33 years old.

Michael Johnson died after a lifelong battle with muscular dystrophy. The sports world responded Saturday with an outpouring of kindness and condolences for Johnson and his family. On Tuesday, the beloved broadcaster's studio mates paid tribute, dedicating the entire pregame show for TNT's Tuesday doubleheader to the Johnson family.

Host Adam Lefkoe welcomed viewers to the broadcast with a statement from Turner Sports.

“Here at Turner, it’s family first, and our family’s hearts are heavy,” Lefkoe said. “Late last week Ernie Johnson’s son Michael, who battled Duchenne muscular dystrophy his entire life, passed away at 33 years old. Michael’s unwavering strength, his constant joy inspired everyone that had a chance to share time with him.”

He then introduced a 2019 video of Ernie speaking about Michael and sharing his story from the TNT set.

After the tribute video, cameras turned to the TNT Studio J set long familiar to NBA fans. Johnson wasn't there. Shaquille O'Neal, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley were as Johnson's chair sat empty. The trio then traded stories about Ernie, his wife Cheryl Ann and Michael, whom they had all come to know. 

Shaq: Johnson's 'more than a brother'

"For me, it's an honor to sit next to you guys, but it's a bigger honor to sit next to Ernie Johnson," O'Neal said. "For me, growing up, I always said to myself if three people know who I am, I've made it — Dick Vitale, Bill Raftery and Ernie Johnson. ...

"We're hurting right now, because Ernie is a brother. He's more than a brother to me."

Kenny: 'Michael had a gravitational pull'

"To see him when Ernie would bring him — he and his wife they would come around with Michael — we always talk about lighting up a room. It's a gravitational pull. Some people have a gravitational pull no matter who they are and how they are. And Michael had a gravitational pull that you would move toward him."

Charles: "I would not have had the courage' the Johnsons did

"They gave Michael a wonderful, wonderful life. They loved that kid. I would not personally have the courage to do that — to adopt a kid and have to do all the things that they did. My admiration for them grows."

Johnson wasn't there, but he was watching. And he shared his own gratitude for his teammates. 

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