Probably like many people, I know Ernie Johnson Jr. from his work as a broadcaster at Turner Sports, particularly hosting Inside the NBA on TNT. I knew next to nothing about him besides that, but when I found out he was coming out with a biography from a well-known Christian publisher (Baker Books) and this biography was being released right around the start of the NBA playoffs, when Johnson is more visible than at most other times of the year (good job on setting the release date, Baker), I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy.
The book is called Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments that Make Life Extraordinary. Johnson said he got the idea for the book after the ESPN program E:60 did a feature on his family. A recurring theme in the book is “blackberry moments,” named after an incident from Johnson’s childhood that he relates in the first chapter. He was playing in a Little League game that was delayed for a while when two of the outfielders, who had gone over the fence to look for a lost ball, ended up picking blackberries instead. Johnson defines a blackberry moment as, among other things, as “an unforeseen moment that catches you off guard and marks you forever” (189).
There are plenty such moments in the book, from Johnson’s childhood in Atlanta growing up as the son of the Braves’ play-by-play announcer, to his own work as a broadcaster, to his life with his wife and six kids (two biological and four adopted, including one with muscular dystrophy that keeps him in a wheelchair), to his becoming a committed Christian in the ’90s, to his fight against cancer between 2003 and 2006. There are difficult moments in all of these, but Johnson dwells on the unpredictable, joyful gifts that he has received throughout his life and that have made it all worthwhile. He tells a few “dad jokes” along the way, but rather than groaning at them, I found them to be an endearing part of his voice—they made him seem like a regular guy.
This is a good book for fans of Johnson’s work, of course—but even people like me who knew who he was, but didn’t even watch him that regularly, can get a lot out of this book. It’s not really about sports; it’s about how to navigate life. At one point Johnson quotes the Christian spiritual writer Dallas Willard: “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Johnson tries to eliminate hurry by looking for blackberry moments everywhere.
Note: Thanks to Baker Books for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.