Blackberries and bow ties: celebrating EJ’s 30th anniversary at Turner Sports

22 Nov 2019 - By Lauren Sloan

Thirty years after its initial debut, TNT’s “Inside the NBA” continues to hook audiences across the country with hoops, hilarity and brotherhood.

From their basketball banter to unscripted shenanigans, Ernie, Kenny, Shaq and Chuck have an electric chemistry that seeps through the screen. The nine-time Emmy award-winning series has truly reinvented the game, transcending basketball to become a pop-culture phenomenon. 

This season marks a momentous milestone, not only for “Inside the NBA,” but also for one of the program’s most beloved personalities: Ernie Johnson Jr.

The legendary sportscaster, commonly known as "EJ," has been part of the Turner Sports family since 1989. Johnson quickly became an unmistakable and essential voice on the network, thanks to his tremendous talent and sincere spirit.

Three decades later, the University of Georgia alum remains a pivotal player at the company, best-known for his role hosting “Inside the NBA.” EJ’s on-going time on the TNT series has made him instrumental to the show’s overall success and has earned him 13 total Sports Emmy nominations and three well-deserved wins.  

The Surprise Ceremony

In honor of the revered sportscaster’s 30th anniversary, Turner Sports employees organized a surprise dedication ceremony outside Studio J in Atlanta on November 21, 2019.  

The event was emceed by one of Johnson’s closest friends, Jeff Foxworthy and featured live performances by the University of Georgia Redcoat Band. Both Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith made their way to the podium as well, sharing kind words and precious memories. Ernie’s wife Cheryl, their six children and young grandchildren were also in attendance alongside close colleagues, company executives and crew. 

The Turner Sports family presented Johnson with a 30 year anniversary plaque and unveiled another meaningful tribute: a newly-planted blackberry bush outside his office window. The commemorative gift honors a Johnson family phrase known as “blackberry moments,” unpredictable occasions that make life sweet and extraordinary.

Footage from the ceremony aired on a segment during “Inside the NBA” later that same evening.

And just when Johnson thought the night was over and the show had wrapped, the sports crew announced there was one more project they’ve been working on in his honor.

The “Inside” team aired another short video tribute featuring colleagues he’s worked with and impacted over the past 30 years. Another unforgettable “blackberry moment” to savor.

Create Your Own “Blackberry Moments”

Blackberry Moments (n.) – unpredictable moments that make life extraordinary.

Employees at WarnerMedia’s Atlanta office get the unique opportunity to help the company honor Ernie and be a part of art. The week after Thanksgiving, employees will be given the chance to write one of their very own “Blackberry Moments” on plexiglass pieces.

Each entry will be strung together to create a dazzling and delightful art installation that will permanently hang from the lobby skylight in custom shapes of blackberries and bowties.  

The installation will become a cultural artifact at the company’s Atlanta campus, serving as a constant reminder to embrace the unscripted.


“Blackberry Moments” – A Message to Remember

So what’s a “blackberry moment” and how’d they come to be?
Since Ernie loves the art form, we’ll explain using poetry.

You may not know the phrase, but you’ll remember the lesson without a doubt,
It’s a childhood memory that Ernie Johnson Jr. so often thinks about.

It all happened at a Little League game when EJ was about eight,
When a batter from the other team stepped up to the plate. 

He hit a fastball disappearing into the bushes and trees,
That wasn’t good news for Ernie’s team, the Vees.

After two players jumped over the fence to find the ball,
It felt strange minutes later when they didn’t come back at all.

So Ernie and his teammates went over to help support,
They hopped the fence too—postponing the sport.

The search was easy, the ball was in plain sight,
But where were the two boys they wondered? Something didn’t seem right…

Much to their surprise they found them both about 10 feet away,
Picking blackberries from a bush—savoring the sweetness of the day.

Though EJ has no memory of how the game eventually turned out, 
The blackberry delay was memorable, no doubt. 

The incident struck a chord with Ernie and his father Ernie Johnson Sr. too,
They use the phrase to reference the sweet moments that life seems to brew. 

That story later became central to EJ’s perspective on work, relaxation—even life,
They helped him get through some of the thorns along the way—the strife. 

A “blackberry moment,” yes, don’t you see?
Wait, hold on – are you still not following me?
It’s not in a dictionary or online anywhere,
It’s more of a Johnson family thing, to be fair.

If you’re still confused by the phrase, it’s ok, you're not alone,
Most people think it has something to do with the phone.
It’s not referencing the mobile device—actually quite contrary,
They're the unpredictable moments that make life extraordinary.

They’re unforeseen moments that catch you off guard,
Like receiving flowers from a stranger or an unexpected card.  
It’s a moment so sweet you’ll savor the taste,
You’ll remember it for a lifetime – the time, the people, the place.  

They’re not on your calendar, you can’t plan them out,
No, that’s not what blackberry moments are about. 
It’s embracing the unscripted and not being too focused on the game,
You don’t want to miss the blackberries, now that would be a shame.

So keep your head on swivel and your eyes open wide,
There’s so many sweet moments if you take the time to step aside. 
There’s blackberry brambles along the path we walk every day,
We promise they’re there, even when the sky is grey. 

So now you know what a “blackberry moment” is and how they came to be,
Thanks for sharing your story and wisdom with us, Ernie!

A huge congratulations for 30 years with us on the air,
It wouldn’t be the same without you (or the bow ties you wear).

We’ve planted a blackberry bush outside the studio for you,
In honor of those sweet, unscripted moments that pop up out of the blue.
From basketball to banter and laughter galore,
Here’s to all the blackberries still left in store.