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Preparation. Everyone has their own way of doing it, but Ernie Johnson Jr. takes it to the next level. It is that dedication and painstaking attention to detail that has made him one of the most recognizable voices in sports broadcasting. His show Inside the NBA on TNT, in particular, is iconic; viewers tune in for his insight, commentary and, of course, his ability to manage the enormous personalities of Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith with style and grace. The Overhead Compartment was fortunate enough to catch up with Johnson after the NBA Finals to get a peak at his famous “binders” full of notes, learn about his new book: Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments That Make Life Extraordinary, and hear all about what he calls “Blackberry moments.”
Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments That Make Life Extraordinary by Ernie Johnson Jr. available NOW.
The Overhead Compartment with Ernie Johnson Jr. starts now….
OC: You’ve been covering the NBA, MLB, NCAA and golf for more than 25 years, what’s the best thing about your job?
EJ: The people I get to work with. Not just those on the air—Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaq, Ron Darling, Cal Ripken, Ian Baker Finch, Bill Kratzert, etc etc….but the people behind the scenes—producers such as Tim Keily and Jeremy Levin and Scott Cockerill. I think we all realize how blessed we are to be doing what we do for a living.
OC: What’s the hardest part?
EJ: It’s always the travel—being away from home.
OC: TNT’s Inside the NBA has been widely popular since its inception, what’s the secret to keeping it fresh?
EJ: Never being satisfied. Never thinking that you’ve hit on a formula and then being afraid to try something new. We’ve never been afraid to take chances.
OC: What is it like trying to keep Charles Barkley in line?
EJ: Sometimes you want to try and keep him in line, and at other times you just want to let him go. He always comes to the studio with a handful of things he wants to get off his chest on a given night, so you have to be ready for anything.
OC: When did you first realize Charles was going to become a personality that broke through to the degree he has?
EJ: Probably on the first night we worked together. The whole key was going to be if Charles would be the same guy he was on TV that he was as a player—always quotable and never shy with his opinions. Thankfully he’s been that same guy.
OC: It’s known that your preparation before games is quite unique and detailed, how much do you sleep during the NBA playoffs?
EJ: Probably not enough. There are a few days in the course of that month and a half when I’m trying to get my second wind. But that just goes with the territory. Most of the time we work until around 2:00-2:15 am and then I’m back in my office by Noon or 1:00 the next day. The hours may be long, but it’s not like we’re doing a lot of heavy lifting. We’re talkin’ hoop.
OC: Your book Unscripted focuses on your life and touches on personal moments. What’s the one thing you hope readers take away from it?
EJ: To embrace the unscripted moments in life and not run from them. Even the moments that might rock your world can also be defining moments that shape and mold the person you’re becoming.
OC: Please tell my readers why you describe certain experiences as Blackberry moments.
EJ: It all goes back to a Little League baseball game when I was a kid, and the game was delayed briefly while two outfielders abandoned the search for a baseball so they could eat some blackberries growing behind the outfield fence. It became a modern-day parable for me as I grew older, with the message that you can’t get so tied up in the game that you miss the sweet moments that are so close.
OC: Have you had any Blackberry moments covering sports recently?
EJ: Blackberry moments take all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s not the sports moment itself but the people you meet while you’re covering the game or the person you might meet in an airport or on a flight. Getting to know a man who runs a bow tie shop in Cleveland one night during the Eastern Conference Finals was certainly a blackberry moment for me.
OC: When you travel and get recognized, what’s the first question people ask you?
EJ: “Hey, where are Kenny, Charles, and Shaq!!”—as if we’re joined at the hip and never go anywhere without the others.
OC: What city do you think has the most passionate basketball fans?
EJ: That’s a tough question to answer because there are so many rabid fan bases out there, but certainly Golden State, Oklahoma City and Cleveland are pretty passionate.
OC: What is your favorite city to visit for work?
EJ: Chicago is one of my favorites for sure, especially during baseball season.
OC: What do you do with your down time there?
EJ: There’s not an awful lot of down time when I travel but finding a good restaurant is always high on the list. Places like Chicago and New York have plenty of those.
OC: What is the first thing you do when arriving in a hotel room?
EJ: I set it up like an office. If I need to move a desk so that I can do my work and have the TV in the same line of sight I do that. There has to be sufficient light in the room too, so I can get my work done. A good Wi-Fi connection is a must, and water pressure in the shower is a very underrated aspect of hotel life.
OC: Complete the following sentence I never leave home without:
EJ: My iPad so I can FaceTime with the family and the grandkids from the road.
Ernie Johnson Jr. please use care upon departure as items may have shifted in The Overhead Compartment during our journey. Thanks for choosing us for your travel tips! Have a wonderful day!
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