Ernie Johnson Jr.
Baker, 2017. 224pp.
Some might think Ernie Johnson Jr. leads a charmed life. He’d agree, though he would also say it has been an unscripted life where unexpected events, both good and bad, have proven to be moments orchestrated by God. Johnson calls them “blackberry” moments, recalling a funny moment from his childhood where eating fresh blackberries became more important than a Little League game still in progress.
Johnson is one of the most accomplished sports broadcasters of our time. He hosts Inside the NBA, a program that has earned him three Emmy Awards. He is a constant presence during the NCAA Basketball Tournament, sitting behind the desk with retired basketball stars, offering halftime and between-game commentary. Like his father, the beloved longtime Atlanta Braves play-by-play man and color commentator, Ernie Johnson Sr., the younger Johnson calls Major League Baseball games. He also covers two PGA major tournaments every year and at times has also called Wimbledon, NFL games, and numerous Olympic sports.
Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments that Make Life Extraordinary is Johnson’s autobiography, and it’s a good one. It has all the elements you’d expect in an autobiography by a famous Christian. He talks about the life lessons he learned from his famous dad and hardworking mom. He recounts meeting his future wife, their courtship, and then marriage. Johnson tells about his children and how he became a sports broadcaster. And of course, he shares his testimony of becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, which has changed his life and allowed him to use his platform to talk about his faith in winsome ways. So far, so good. But Johnson’s autobiography is way better than most books in this genre, in part because of how compelling his life has been, and in part because he is such a great writer.
First, his life. Johnson and his wife, Cheryl, are the parents of six children, four of whom are adopted. Two of the adoptions are international, including a Romanian son who suffers from muscular dystrophy. Two of the Johnson’s daughters come from troubled pasts and were adopted out of the foster care system. Johnson himself is also a cancer survivor, having received treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2006. He shared his cancer story with the world by talking about it on Inside the NBA, inspiring many others who’ve experienced cancer in their own lives or in their families. Professionally, Johnson is not only widely respected as one of the best in his business, but he is also an innovator. With Inside the NBA, a show co-hosted with NBA greats Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal, Johnson has helped redefine the sports show genre as both analysis and entertainment. (These guys are really funny.)
Then there is Johnson’s writing. He frames his life story around unscripted blackberry moments, unplanned events that turn out to be life’s most important (and often best) moments. An awkward date that awakens love for a future spouse. Being cut from a college baseball team, opening the door for a career in sports broadcasting. Deciding to adopt a special needs child who beats many of the odds against him and becomes a blessing to everyone he meets. Deciding to visit a church “for the kids” and finding a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Winning a prestigious award and giving it to the children of an industry competitor who had lost his own battle with cancer, a selfless action that led to a second award that is presented by those very children. The list could go on.
Johnson’s style is easy to read and feels like a conversation. And he is funny—I mean gut-splitting, “snort a little bit when you laugh out loud” funny. But he also knows how to write well about more serious matters, too. I can only recall having read four books that made me cry. This one choked me up several times. I read Unscripted in one day, and could’ve read it in one sitting if I didn’t have to eat a couple of meals and preach a couple of sermons in between! It’s that good.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Johnson has written a wonderful autobiography that reminds readers about the things that really matter in life. It will help us be better preachers and teachers—and perhaps convict us about some of our own misdirected priorities. Unscripted is also a great book for a men’s reading group focused on how to be faithful in our own callings as husbands, fathers, workers, etc. Finally, this book would be a good one to give to young men who enjoy sports, perhaps as a graduation gift. Or even better, fathers and sons could read it together.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
This Lifeway Pastors review was written by Nathan Finn. Dr. Finn serves as dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University in Jackson, TN. Like Ernie Johnson, Jr., he is a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan who grew up listening to the elder Johnson call baseball games.