Ernie Johnson Jr. is the Reggie Jackson and Darryl Strawberry of TNT’s Inside The NBA crew. The veteran analyst is the straw that stirs the Emmy-award winning program’s drink and at times he is the sagacious voice of reason, representing the people as he manages three former players with strong opinions and robust egos. You might also catch him announcing at other prestigious pro sporting events such as the PGA Championship. He took a couple of minutes to speak college and NBA hoops with Da Gambler at CBS and Turner Sports’ recent March Madness media day at the Hilton in Manhattan. 

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Gambler: What’s the most exciting thing for you personally and professionally at this time of year?

E.J: March Madness and the NBA Playoffs represent hope for everybody involved. You’ll always see somebody who makes a statement. Somebody who wins a game you never would have anticipated and the unrestrained and unbridled joy that comes with it. That speaks volumes as to what the tournament means to every player, every coach and every team in there. That’s what you look forward too. You look forward to those moments that someone wins a game they’re not supposed to win. Or somebody who has been under the microscope all year and people questioned if they were really that good, prove they’re that good. It’s the unexpected. That’s what keeps it coming back.

Gambler: What are the unexpected NBA themes developing this season? 

E.J.: It’s been a story of injuries. With Kevin Durant out and Derrick Rose out--those injuries have thrown such question marks into everything. LeBron missed a two-week stretch early on for Cleveland. I think those have been the kind of stories that have somewhat dampened the season. Then you have questions still surrounding Cleveland. Can they be as good as everybody thinks? Is it too early to expect a championship? Where the heck did the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks come up with this? What planet is Russell Westbrook from? Those are sort of the surprise stories that have developed and that’s why it’s made things…you know, you talk about March Madness, well in the NBA it’s going to be just as crazy man.

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As soon as we get done with the Tournament, they’ll only be a few weeks left in the NBA regular season. And there ain’t no tellin’ who the seventh or eighth seed in the West might be and what they might do to a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. It’s been a very interesting year and I think a lot of folks have been waiting for Atlanta to come back to the pack and it hasn’t happened

Behind all of these storylines, I think the good lesson is about...hey unselfish ball will pay off. You saw it in the Finals last year with San Antonio and you’re seeing it with GS and Atlanta. You share the ball. You don’t care who gets in the headlines and you win ballgames. That’s been one of the key stories of the year.