Ernie Johnson routinely talks to the world's biggest basketball stars, has captured multiple Emmys for his brilliant work as host of Inside The NBA and has openly shared about his battles with cancer – being stricken with both non-Hodgkin lymphoma and prostrate cancer.
Yet when Nick Saban, college football's king and its national championships record-holder, phoned Johnson to see if he could speak to the Crimson Tide, Johnson recalled how there truly was only one answer.
“When Nick Saban asks if you would come and speak to his football team, yes and no are not the answers,” Johnson said. “What time is the answer.”
While that statement from Johnson spoke to Saban's gravitas, it's the message that Johnson imparted on the Crimson Tide football program that has resonated with so many in the 24 hours since Alabama shared via Twitter more than five minutes of Johnson's talk.
“What I've got is a get-to job. Not a got-to job. I get to the do that,” Johnson said. “When you look across the room and you lock eyes with a teammate, and you're wearing the same colors, you get to.
“That's not a got-to.”
Johnson then shared the story of his wife, Cheryl, and her determination to adopt an orphan from Romania after she had witnessed a TV story on orphans from the country, and their adopted son, Michael, a native of Romania who has battled muscular dystrophy since birth.
“What is your role? There's value in everybody,” Johnson said. “Everybody on our team at Turner, there's value in every position.
“When I think about value, I think about this kid right here.”
Johnson then delved into the adoption story.
“Cheryl said, 'You know what we need to do? We need to go to Romania and adopt a kid,'” Johnson recalled. “I said, 'Hold on, we've got two children.'”
Now, the Johnsons have adopted four children – and deviated from the neatly envisioned script that previously had viewed their lives.
“Don't be afraid to go unscripted, folks,” Johnson said.
Johnson then shared the poignant story of Michael's addition to the Mill Creek High School basketball team in their hometown of Braselton, Georgia. The coach insisted that Michael be a fixture with the program; he said he would teach the team about everyone having value and having a heart for others.
On the school's senior night, the crowd paid tribute to Michael when it stood to say “I love you” in sign language.
“When you step away from your agenda and you notice there are moments that can make somebody's life better … that's all I try to teach me and my kids,” Johnson said. “When you wake up in the morning, how am I going to make somebody else's life much better today?
“There's a team much bigger than this, there is a team that is trying to make somebody's day better. That is all of us.”
Johnson then unbuttoned his shirt to reveal the T-shirt he had donned beneath his long-sleeve button-down.
The four-word message on the shirt was punctuated with Johnson's question.
“Be A Better Human,” the shirt read.
“How are you going to do it?,” Johnson asked.