A SIGN OF THE (L.A.) TIMES: WAS NOAH EAGLE BORN TO BE AN NBA BROADCASTER? THE CLIPPERS HAVE A NEST FOR HIM TO PROVE IT
By Tom Hoffarth
Was Noah Eagle born to be an NBA play-by-play man?
On the date of his birth — Dec. 11, 1996 — his father, Ian, was there in the hospital that morning. But his load management (OK, it wasn’t a thing then) called for him to call another New Jersey Nets game that night.
The 4-11 Nets were up against the 16-6 Seattle SuperSonics, George Karl’s team with Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Sam Perkins and Detlef Schrempf. The Nets were trying to find their way with coach John Calipari’s roster of Kerry Kittles, Robert Pack, Kendall Gill and Shawn Bradley, and Ed O’Bannon off the bench.
The Nets kind of surprised the Sonics by pinning a 110-101 loss on them.
Noah Eagle can tell you about that game as if he was there, he knows it so well. And it has shaped his career path to calling games now for the Clippers.
“I believe I’ve basically studied the NBA since Day 1 on this Earth,” he says. “From that day, the NBA has been my biggest love. Movies, TV and music are right behind it. It’s all about finding a way to show I know the history of the game and pop culture and staying current. If I can blend it and be creative, that’s what I’ll do.”
The Clippers’ 22-year-old radio play-by-play man is our weekly L.A. Times media column profile. In the process of pulling this piece together, we’ve got our writers’ cut of notes, quotes and more antidotes worth passing on to add more context.
(But first, check out this clip below: On Feb. 17, 2018, Ian and Noah Eagle were both calling a Syracuse-Miami college basketball game — Ian for CBS; Noah, a junior at Syracuse, doing it for the school’s WAER-FM radio station. They met up for a pre-game segment.)
Noah Eagle on:
== The start of the season:
“It’s been exactly as I’d hoped for, and more. The team is great, the games are exciting. I know I will continue to improve. That’s how it will be my entire career. There’s no plateauing. I feel each game has been a little smoother, and the rhythm continues to come. The idea this year is each game will be better than the last one, and taking little things away from them to apply to the next.”
== Adjusting to L.A.:
“I’d only been to L.A. a couple times with my family, but never long-term. It’s hard not to like 75 and sunny every single day, going outside like it’s summer year around. This time in Syracuse, it’s already starting to snow. It’s been a much different vibe so far.”
== The pros and cons of this job:
“My dad was there when I got the offer. I had already decided I wanted it, and he agreed it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. He was excited for me. He started doing this at a young age, so he had some advice right away about how to go about things. I think both my parents expected I’d be in New York City a long time, but now their commute to see me may have gotten a little longer, but they’re excited to come here and visit.”
== The interview with Steve Ballmer:
“We had 90 minutes, one-on-one, and it was really cool. Even crazy to think about. I never expected anything like that. But he made me feel comfortable. You’d never know who he was unless you really actually knew who he was. He doesn’t act like he’s smarter than you in every way, and that stood out. He was great to me.”
== His transition from doing TV play-by-play with a partner to doing radio alone:
“I had Sirius XM’s NBA package and I listened to Brian (Sieman) do it, and he’s one of the best in the business and he deserves this (Prime Ticket promotion) 10 fold. He’s a fantastic person and broadcaster. The way he did the call along was very impressive. When I got the job, I wasn’t sure if they’d bring someone in. Honestly, going solo isn’t the worst thing in the world. You can get into a rhythm by yourself. When there are two or even three in the booth, in a fast-moving sport like basketball, it can get challenging to give everyone ample time on the air. When you’re alone, you create the opportunities for yourself. The preseason games were crucial to understand not just the game, but pre and post and halftime, and all the timing of my whole routine heading into game days. I wanted to know how to fill those moments between every free throw or dead ball, not just beingt helpful and informative but also be entertaining for three hours.
“People might wonder if I was nervous (going solo) but the biggest help I had in preparing for this – and I had no idea I was preparing for this or this job – was doing talk shows weekly shows on Sirius XM for a full year on the college channel. In the off season, there weren’t a lot of callers, so for two or three hours, a lot of it was me just talking to myself. I knew people were listening because I’d get messages, but I learned how to be informative and entertaining just talking alone. The idea of always being on and ready and someone is always listening at all times really helps.”
== On what a 22-year-old is into these days:
“Honestly it’s like any age group, it depends on the person. If you have a basketball super fan who is young, maybe they’ll study analytics. If you’re a casual fan, to me it’s pop culture and sneakers that they pay attention to on their Instagram or Twitter. I follow the shoe accounts and get notifications from SlamKicks. At the end of the day, my job is to be a middleman for the players and the fans, and finding a way to have the fan feel they know these guys. If I can get something out of a player someone else can’t, then I’ve done my job. I’ve given the fan something else. People tuning into me are most likely big-time Clippers fans, so I know that going in. I can appeal to an audience by giving them something they aren’t getting from a national game or from other outlets. I need to find ways to be unique. It’s not easy but that’s what I’m here for.”
Ian Eagle talks about:
== This opportunity for his son:
“The funny part about these jobs is you don’t often get to pick and choose. The situation chooses you. This is the situation he’s walked into. There’s an incredible amount of buzz on this team and he realizes how big a story this will be in the NBA. But he also knows it’s not about him, it’s about the Clippers, chronicling those stories through the season. It’s about the game. He understands that.
There was a confluence of events that came together that led Noah to this and more than anything else he went out there and impressed the Clippers with his interview and audition. He made a strong impression and those are moments you can’t prepare someone for.”
== How to offer advice:
“On larger-scope questions, I’m probably his go-to guy. But he has very good instincts. He really paid attention. When you question whether your kids have actually paid attention, he did, when he came and watched a game from the booth or sat near me courtside. He was taking it all in all the time.
“I’ve tried to be a sounding board for many broadcasters around the country because I know how difficult it is to navigate through this business. I’m not the type of person who, every single game, I’ll send him a list of notes of things he has to work on. It’ll be more subtle, a tip here, an observation there. There are benchmarks during the season where you can take time to delve into what you’re doing and the course of the season you make adjustments. But I would never text during a broadcast: You should think about this, you might want to think about doing that. It’s not my parenting style first of all. But it’s not the most productive way to give constructive criticism anyway. Also the broadcasting bond is just part of our relationships. It doesn’t define the father-son dynamic.”
== On working solo on radio:
“I do think it allows you to develop your own style. He’s been a quick study throughout his life. You can’t replicate or simulate 82 games worth of reps. The fact he’ll do it solo means he has to attack this from a completely different angle of keeping the conversation moving and being engaging and really connecting with the audience. It’s a real skill developed over time. Brian Sieman took more than 12 years to develop very strong style, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It does take time and there’s trial and error involved when you’re doing it alone.”
== On whether calling games for a not-so-successful team right away helps you become better:
“I can related to that. The Nets are the stepchild in the New York area and the relevance they’re experiencing now is very different than what I saw 26 years ago. It’s nice to see it become what it is today but the struggles the team had forced me to be better at the job.”
From Syracuse’s Olivia Stomski:
== On the Eagle name value in the industry:
“Of course, we know Noah is his son, but Ian is such a friend to so many in the industry, we trust him. One thing I do think is important: I made a connection with a close friend (at Fox Sports) asking for a suggestion, but Noah got this job on his own. Did his name help? It didn’t hurt. But I don’t know if they had a feeling they’re hire a 22 year-old. I remember telling John Hefner: This kid’s going to be good and you’ll be a genius getting him now rather than waiting five years. That’s kind of the trend with those in L.A. You see how Joe Davis (with the Dodgers) is fresh and new, and we want to say we saw his talent when no one else did.
“Sometimes (ESPN and ABC broadcaster) Sean McDonough will speak in my class, and he will say: ‘Let’s make something clear, my dad (former Boston Globe writer and NBC NFL insider Will McDonough) got me my first job and I’m OK with it. But if I wasn’t any good, then I wasn’t going to stay. Some times, things fall your way and sometimes they don’t. If there’s any jealousy, it will fade away.”
== On Noah Eagle still seeking feedback:
“He’s always seeking to be better and be his own person. It’s a process that we’re all seeking to get better. Even now, he’s in L.A., and it’s very easy to think, ‘I’ve made it.’ But when I texted him after his first game, and wished him luck, he texted back and thanked me but he asked for my reaction. He’s always looking for feedback, because his maturity level is there.”
From the Clippers’ Gillian Zucker:
== On hiring Noah Eagle:
“I think we approach all hires the same way — find the most talented person for the job. Noah caught the attention of multiple people and it was his poise that attracted us to him. He has a maturity and ability that far exceeds his years.
“So much (about hiring him) was about our brand and what it means. Whether we are identifying people already on our roster or people in the front office or people on radio and television, it’s about making sure it’s consistent about what it means to be a Clipper: Hard working, determined, gritty individuals who are constantly striving to be better. He fits that. I can only hope he’s here (as long as Ralph Lawler was).”