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Ernie Johnson, fighting cancer, returns to TNT studio

10/31/2006 - NBA

NEW YORK -- When Ernie Johnson hosts TNT's season-opening
coverage of an NBA doubleheader on Tuesday night, he'll be just as
bald as studio mates Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith.

Six rounds of chemotherapy have left Johnson without his hair.
But he said he feels fine and is ready to get back to work after
taking four months off for treatment of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Johnson was diagnosed with the illness in 2003, but remained on
the air until he felt his work was being affected because his jaw
was noticeably swollen. He worked through TNT's coverage of the
Western Conference finals, then skipped his usual summer
responsibilities with the blessing of his bosses.

"When the summer began [they] said, 'Don't worry about doing
golf, don't worry about doing college football,"' Johnson said.
"'Focus on this, get better, if you can come back for basketball,
welcome back.' There was never any pressure."

Johnson hadn't told Barkley or Smith about the illness until
early last season, when he asked them if his appearance had changed
much. He became convinced it had during All-Star weekend -- he said
it "got uncomfortable to be on the air" -- and announced on the
program the following week that he would get treatment after the
season.

Johnson has had six chemo treatments, with another scheduled for
Friday, and could have one more after that. Doctors told him he had
shown an "excellent response to treatment" and he said he was
touched by the amount of calls and e-mails he had received.

"There have been 100 people who have said to me this summer --
at least 100 -- they always want to know how Ernie's doing,"
Barkley said. "I was calling Ernie pretty much once a week just to
check on him. And it's been so many people who wanted me to wish
Ernie the best. It's been amazing."