Last week, “Inside the NBA” host Ernie Johnson announced on Instagram that his adopted son, Michael, had passed away at age 33.
Michael suffered from a rare genetic disorder called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Two days after his death was announced, the NBA on TNT shared a video of a speech Johnson gave in 2019, recounting Michael’s adoption story.
Johnson and his wife, Cheryl, adopted Michael in 1991. When the couple decided they wanted to expand their family, Cheryl went to Romania without any idea of who she would bring back home or if there would be anybody to bring back.
“We wanted to give some kid a chance that he didn’t have or she didn’t have,” he said.
Cheryl was told that Michael, who was three years old at the time, had only been outside one day in his life—the day he was abandoned in a park at birth.
The boy was the first child Cheryl saw at the orphanage, but a woman who worked there gave her a warning.
“You know what she said to Cheryl? ‘Don’t take this boy, he’s no good,’” Johnson said.
Michael couldn’t walk or talk.
“I remember what my wife said on the phone was that this guy’s so much more than we can handle, but I can’t imagine going through the rest of my life wondering what happened to that blonde-haired boy in that orphanage,” Johnson recalled.
Michael was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy at 3 years old after he was adopted.
“He’s three years old and he’s got this fatal disease, and you don’t know what you’re going to do and how you’re going to handle that, you wonder, where’s the value?” Johnson said. “What’s amazing is the value reveals itself.”
Michael used a wheelchair to get around and a ventilator to breathe. He became a beloved part of the basketball team at his high school, Mill Creek, in Georgia, and was known for saying “Love you, too,” to everyone.
On Senior Night, students pulled off something extra sweet for Michael—they saluted him with the sign language gesture for “I love you.”
“Don’t take ‘Boy’s no good.’ He had done more through that point in his life and impacted more folks than I could ever hope to, because there is value inside everybody,” Johnson said in his speech. “May not be able to do things the way we all do it, may have a different strength, a different weakness and that kind of thing, but there is always value. Find it.”
The “Inside the NBA” crew, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and Kenny Smith, paid tribute to Michael before TNT’s telecast of Heat-Mavericks.
“We’re hurting right now because Ernie is a brother. He’s more than a brother to me. We looked up to him,” O’Neal said.
Smith, who has worked with Johnson for 20 years, talked about experiencing life’s highs and lows with colleagues.
“To see Michael when Ernie and his wife would come around with him — we always talk about lighting up the room,” he said. “It’s a gravitational pull. Some people have a gravitational pull no matter who they are and how they are. Michael had a gravitational pull that you would move towards him in that respect. Ernie’s usually the person that we lean on — Ernie: this is the first time that you need to lean on us.”
Barkley mentioned how touching it was that Ernie and Cheryl adopted Michael, even when they knew he would require plenty of care. They were able to give him a wonderful life until the end.
“That story just makes me appreciate Ernie and his wife, Cheryl — that just shows us what type of guy we’re working with,” he said.
Listen to Ernie Johnson talk about Michael’s powerful adoption story in the video below.
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