Being the son of an NBA player usually comes with a fame factor in and of itself, but Tuskegee sophomore forward Moriah Johnson inadvertently paved his own path to stardom when he joined the cast of BET’s reality series, Baldwin Hills.
Johnson, the son of former NBA forward Marques Johnson, was a sophomore and a straight-A, four-sport athlete at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, Calif. when he auditioned. His tenure with the show lasted three seasons; afterwards he traveled down south to play basketball for the Golden Tigers. While the series revolved around the lives of young, hot teens livin’ it up in Hollywood, or so we think, Johnson had a different take.
“I think the focus of the show was trying to divert American views of the typical black teenager as drug dealers…and show black kids that really have goals. I think it can change the stereotypical view,” Johnson said. As his popularity grew, his goal was to plant humility in the minds of his new fans.
“(The show) was something new; I thought it was too good to be true. People come up with ideas all the time that don’t [happen],” he said. However, when people recognized him from television, “I tried to come off as a nice guy, not arrogant,” he said.
When arriving at an HBCU, especially, he tried to blend with his peers instead of detaching from them. “I try not to distance myself from people so that they don’t think I’m above them; I know I’m not above any of them,” said Johnson.
However, he had to develop an eye for those who befriended him earnestly and those who wanted to befriend “Moriah from Baldwin Hills.”
He described the advantages and disadvantages as being interconnected. Recognition from Baldwin Hills could end up anywhere, according to him. On one hand, “hecklers” attempted to distract him when he played basketball as a Cougar in high school, claiming to have inside dirt on him from the show. On the other, having a resulting 1,000+ Twitter followers allows him to spread the Bible’s encouragement.
“I’ve been a man of God since I was 14 or 15,” Johnson said sternly, “I always try to stand for what’s right as much as I can.” He warmly expressed that his faith has brought him through life’s challenges and hearten others.
While Crenshaw High is surrounded by low-socioeconomics, Johnson showcased good manners so that his guys could see that such a thing still exists. And his very own Crenshaw legacy can be traced back to going to ball games to watch his older brothers when he was as young as four.
Johnson is the third youngest of eight siblings, but only seven are still living. Additionally, his father attended Crenshaw before going to University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), where he won a NCAA Championship (1975) and became the 3rd overall pick of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks in 1977.
Johnson’s older brother Kris went on to UCLA as well, but Moriah, a two-time track and field city champion, wanted something different.
“I wanted to get out of Cali,” he explained. A sermon in church about a southern storm intrigued him. Although his felt his reason was small, he still voyaged down to Alabama to play for the Tuskegee basketball program while also majoring in Occupational Therapy.
The Tuskegee Golden Tigers (13-8 overall, 13-6 in the SIAC) currently sit atop the SIAC standings with the tournament just a couple of weeks away. “Our thing is ‘Believe’,” said Johnson. He confirmed that the team is confident knowing that they are capable of defeating every other SIAC team. “The games we have lost, we really beat ourselves,” he highlighted, “we’re excited, not nervous.”
With Johnson averaging less than five minutes this season, he has a few goals in mind for next season, “better court awareness, especially on defense, consistent intensity, and ball handling.”
Although he’s found teamwork skills and brotherhood in Tuskegee basketball, it’s not enough to keep him from going back west. He said that people in the south are noticeably more hospitable but that “home is where the heart is.”
While “home” was the place that started his near-celebrity run, he still remains humble. “I’m not perfect,” he said.
As the show depicted Johnson as a “lover boy type” and “mama’s boy,” he wants to remind people that he is outgoing. He wouldn’t strike you as any reality show star because he’s focused on the authentic bigger picture: sustaining a fulfilling life. While the Snookis, the Reals and Chances, and everyone in between seem dependent on what’s next in the world of reality TV, Johnson debunks the reality myth by relying on his faith.
“If I rely on myself, I fail,” he states.
by Jessika Morgan