Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Ernie Johnson is the Emmy-award winning host of TNT's Inside the NBA. Yesterday, EJ took time out of his busy schedule to answer a couple of questions about the Shaquille O'Neal trade (posted here), working in the studio with Charles and Kenny, the All-Star Weekend festivities and more. Here is the full transcript. Enjoy!

Ball Don't Lie: As luck would have it, next week's TNT's doubleheader stars Miami at Chicago and Dallas at Phoenix. Let's pretend something like the Shaq trade didn't go "official" until late Thursday afternoon. Is it pandemonium in the studio? Is Charles going crazy? How do guys handle late-breaking news?

Ernie Johnson: Well, it's never really pandemonium on our end, but our producers would be scrambling to get sound from various people. They're kind of under the gun to say, where's David Aldridge, our insider? Is he someplace that he can do a report for us? Has he been in contact with people? Do we have a camera where we can hear what "Player X" or "Player Y" has to say about it? That kind of a deal. But from our end, with Kenny and Charles, no, that's not a scramble. That's just fun.

BDL: Is that when the show is at its best? When you're winging it.

EJ: Oh, yeah, you get great gut-level reactions to things. And that's the joy of having those guys, because you can't ask them a question they don't have an answer for. That really spices things up nicely.

When you're in February before the All-Star Game, making the way to the break with nobody really jockeying for a playoff spot, you're kind of waiting to get to those compelling games going. In the meantime, when you get news like Shaq-to-Phoenix, or other potential trades, that makes the night. I love that.

BDL: I know you watch a lot of the games between the breaks in your show. Are there any teams you wish TNT showed more of?

EJ: Oh, a lot more Miami.

BDL: Um ...
EJ: (Laughs) No, no ... I think our programmers do a great job of putting the schedule together. They have a very difficult job. They get together with the league in the off-season, and they're kind of basing the TV schedule on "would this be a good match-up?" You know, let's put Greg Oden and the Blazers against somebody, and then let's have Portland play another time, and so on. Luckily they're playing okay. But when Oden went down, it was like, "Oh, man, how many times do we have the Blazers again?" So you feel for our guys that have that responsibility. But there is a bit of a science to it, and it's not just picking team names out of a hat. They're trying to look for attractive match-ups.

But to answer your question, I've always loved watching Phoenix play. I just love watching Nash run the show.

I also think Golden State is a great draw when they're playing at home. When that arena is going nuts it makes for great TV. You can almost feel that stuff coming right through the screen. When they beat Dallas last year that was just a riveting series. You couldn't wait to watch those games.

BDL: True. And it can't hurt having Charles say something funny to upset Warriors fans either.

EJ: Ha. Yeah, you see, that's one of those things when going through a production meeting for the show. Kenny and Charles are not there. They really don't need to be because the show works best when they don't know what's coming. As long as I have an idea of what we're doing, and the producer has an idea, then we're on the same page. And maybe we have some surprise elements that we're going to throw out during the show. He and I need to know that. But we're going to spring that on the other guys.

But Charles, in his own way, springs stuff on us. I mean there is no way in a production meeting you could say, "OK, in the second halftime, um, Charles will kill the entire Bay Area, and then you guys will react." We had no idea that was coming, and that's the beauty -- the spontaneity -- of the show. That's what makes it fun.

BDL: Speaking about the format of the show, why do you think the NBA lends itself to such an informal, laidback type of show? You don't really see this with studio shows in other sports.

EJ: Because it's only basketball. I think that's why it works. And I think it could work with other sports, too. I mean, if you really get down to it: it's a game. There's enough stuff going on in the world that you just want a break from. So for you to tune in and see three uptight guys talking about the NBA, that'd be like, loosen up, you guys have it good. You're talking about basketball. Meantime, the world is going crazy with this issue and that issue and ... why do I have to turn on TV and see three guys treating the NBA like it's front page stuff? This is fun. It's just a game.

BDL: What player or guest that you've had on the show has most impressed you?

EJ: I think you'll find it a surprise, but we had Chris Paul in the studio earlier this year. And he's just a kid. A lot of guys are just blown away when they walk into that studio. I grew up in local TV. I used to work in Macon, Georgia and Spartanburg, South Carolina where the studio was about half the size of your living room. But when you walk into our place in Atlanta the place is just massive. It's got all the bells and whistles. If you're not used to doing this you can kind of get blown away just by the set. That can make you tense up. But Chris Paul acted like he's been doing it all his life. I was very impressed with him.

BDL: You regularly deliver some of the best lines and jokes when Charles or Kenny ever let you get a word in. Do you find it hard to always be the straight man?

EJ: I think that's just what works. The important thing is to know your role on the show. Nobody is going to tune in to see what I think about the NBA. I can contribute by giving facts, and an opinion here and there, but basically I'm there to set the table and to get these guys talking about the good topics. I'm the one who's reading all the newspapers, reading all the clips, and then throwing that out there and saying, this might work; this might be good discussion. Hopefully I have that stuff in my saddlebag.

In the end, Charles is the dominant personality on the show, Kenny comes at it with a street-wise New York kind of deal, and I'm the host. I'm just going to let these guys do it, and when I can let them know that I'm still there. (Laughs)

BDL: Let's jump over to the All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. That'll be here before we know it. What's your favorite All-Star event?

EJ: Um, that's a good question. I kind of like the three-point shoot-out. It's very easy to understand, very simple. It's great to watch a guy get on a roll. I like the Slam Dunk contest when it's good.

BDL: It's shaping up to be pretty good this year.

EJ: Yeah, it could be. We've got some pretty good dunkers and some pretty intriguing stories. Jamario Moon's my pick to win it as a 27 year-old rookie. I like him. He's got some crazy hops. He's going to be fun to watch.

I really like the whole spectacle of All-Star Weekend. There are things going on each and every one of those days. If you're just a fan, the Jam Session is great because it's just like a huge playground. The NBA just does it really well, and I'm not trying to sound like a suck-up or anything like that. They do All-Star Weekend really well. I like different elements of it, but I really like the fact that TNT's got the big game.

BDL: I'm curious about you picking the three-point contest as your favorite event. Do you play a lot of basketball? Did you play a lot of ball?

EJ: Well, I was more of a baseball player. My dad was a baseball player for the Milwaukee Braves way back in the '50's. And so I grew up wanting to be a baseball player. I went to the University of Georgia, walked on as a freshman, and made the team. I did play a couple of years of JV basketball in ninth and tenth grade and then focused on baseball after that.

But even so, even after all that, I've always loved just going out and shooting. I've had guys ask me to join 'em for a run in the gym, but I say, if I take an elbow in the mouth, with what I do for a living, then the next time you hear my voice on the microphone I'll be saying, "Go ahead, pump six. Go ahead." I've got too much to risk going out there and playing pickup basketball with some weekend warriors who might throw an elbow that knocks all my teeth out.

BDL: We gotta get you a mask. Is that we gotta do?

EJ: No, no, a lot of the times I'll go out there and shoot by myself, or just run the floor back-and-forth. It's a great workout, and you're not in any danger of getting a stray elbow. For me it's strictly stay out there behind the arc and let it fly. I'm not one for getting in there, and banging, and doing all the dirty work.

BDL: You're a three-point gunner, eh?

EJ: Yeah.

BDL: All right, final question, and I have to ask you this because I'm a blogger homer. Do you read any NBA blogs?

EJ: Um, every now and then I'll look at ... SLAMonline. But I'm not a big blog guy. There's just so much out there that you could spend all day doing that. So I try to limit it. As for opinions about the show ... I'm sort of like, write what you want, but I'm not going to get carried away if it's a good thing or down in the dumps if it's a bad thing. I'm just not into sitting at the computer all day and doing that.

BDL: Well, on behalf of Yahoo! Sports and the Ball Don't Lie blog, I'd like to thank you for your time today. Enjoy the All-Star Weekend.

EJ: Thanks. And hey, this is the only blog I read everyday, by the way.

BDL: (Laughs) Ah, thanks. I was waiting for that.

EJ: Have a great one.

(Many thanks to Megan Weems at Turner Sports for help making this happen. Also, virtual high-fives to Tas, Shoals and Jamie for their input with questions.)

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