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

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.

"There’s value in everybody."

Back in 2019, Ernie shared a powerful message about his son Michael.

Michael Johnson passed away at age 33 on Friday, but his impact will never be forgotten.

— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) November 2, 2021

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, Kenny and Charles remember the life and impact of Michael Johnson.

— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) November 2, 2021

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. 

My brothers.
No words.
Just a sea of gratitude from Cheryl Ann and me.
And Michael.
Love You Too🤟

— Ernie Johnson (@TurnerSportsEJ) November 2, 2021

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