Journalist Eli Friedman: Age 16 and Covering the NBA

One of the toughest things in life is finding purpose. Even when considering certain luxuries and freedoms that are often taken for granted that others in other parts of the world don’t experience, one aspect of being young in America and having access to more common privileges is having to look to the future with the expectation of knowing what you should want early. And it can be daunting. In the case of Eli J. Friedman, he has been granted good fortune with access and insight into what fulfills him and sustains him on his journey to living a life worthwhile through the game of basketball.

One of the highest-rising writing talents covering one of the NBA’s top teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Friedman was kind enough to share his story via interview about his arrival as a talent in sports media, from the genesis of him getting a chance of a lifetime in meeting one of his heroes to using that to create a space for his voice to be heard.

Sandy Dover: Eli, you’re a 16-year-old high junior who covers one of the top NBA teams in the league as a credentialed journalist. Tell me a bit about how you started with the game, as far as covering the NBA so young.

Eli J. Friedman: At the age of 13, I was lucky enough to meet (during an intense pick-up game at my local community center) Gail Bryant, who is the sister of former NBA veteran and current assistant coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Mark Bryant. Gail was so nice to me. She let me tag along with her to Madison Square Garden for the New York Knicks-Oklahoma City Thunder game. Despite the Thunder’s loss, I was still given the opportunity, from Gail, to meet her brother. I also got the chance to meet the coaching staff and players, Russell Westbrook. From then on, I became an avid fan.

My mom had a brilliant idea.”How about venturing into sports journalism,” she said. “Try your hand at writing about your team.” From then on, I would sit with my laptop during each game and compile about 350 words for post-game analysis, offering my personal insight into what transpired and what was next for this promising team.

Eventually, I created a Twitter page and luckily developed a following, which led to my first blog opportunity with an independent site called Hoopstradamus. I became the Oklahoma City Thunder Beat Writer, covering remotely every single Thunder game. I was initially shocked that some of my work appeared on ESPN TrueHoop Network’s Daily Thunder blog, and I was later invited to talk as a guest on several sports radio talk shows including ESPN Radio 1420 in Honolulu, HI. Eventually, I started writing for Fansided, a Sports Illustrated-affiliated company with over 230 unique sports websites dedicated to team-specific and sport-specific coverage; I am a contributor at their affiliated OKC Thunder site, Thunderous Intentions, and write feature pieces as well for all Thunder content.

SD: What was the gig that really broke you open as a known and respected NBA journalist? Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop don’t gobble any and everyone up , you know? You’re clearly talented, but was Twitter where you were able to get attention for bigger news authorities? Was it Hoopstradamus that facilitated your work getting more attention?

EJF: There was no one gig that really broke myself open as a respected NBA blogger. Twitter was definitely a big boost for me, due to the fact that I was able to develop a following from Thunder fans around the world. Hoopstradamus was a great starting point for me because I really improved as a writer. Just like all other things, repetition was the key. The more I wrote, the better I got. Hoopstradamus was a great platform to improve my writing and work. From then, my writing appeared on a lot of big time sites, I appeared on a few sports talk shows, and eventually landed the opportunity to write for Fansided.

SD: Fair enough, sir.

Do you have a projection of where you see your writing going in the future or perhaps where you’re headed in sports media? You’re already more accomplished at 16 than some 26-year-olds in the business.

EJF: The beauty of being so young is that I don’t have to make an immediate decision about my future. I know for sure that I want to do something the NBA and in the game of basketball. One of my favorite things to do is network, and meet new people, which I have been lucky enough to do, at the college level, as I have had the opportunity to meet coaches like Jim Boeheim and Bill Self. And so, majoring in sports management in college and then representing NBA clientele and becoming an agent would be a path that I would definitely love to take. Obviously, I have a huge passion for journalism, because I get to voice my opinion, and would love to become a reporter or analyst for ESPN or the NBA. However, right now, I am just exploring my options and playing the cards as they come.

SD: You mentioned “being so young” – how has your early success and the jumpstart on laying the foundation of your career been received by your peers near you? Are they supportive about all that you’re doing?

EJF: Over time, I’ve learned that one of the most important things in life is to surround yourself with positive people. That’s exactly what I try to do. My family has and always will be there in support of my ambitions. My mom worked in PR for 20 years, and my dad worked in radio for some time, so they know the business well and know what I have to do to become successful in the field. The majority of my closer friends don’t go to school with me, but in school I have a lot of people come up to me and tell me how cool it is what I do and ask me about it which is a good feeling for sure. Of course, with that support there also comes a bit of hate and almost what seems like jealousy. However, anytime you pursue a dream as big as mine, you are going to get naysayers and those who doubt you. I know that I can’t let anyone tell me I’m not good enough, and just continue to pursue my dream and be humble about it.

SD: I’m going to switch gears for a second – take me through your typical day on a game day. Say you have school and the game is later in the evening. What’s your 24-hour process as you start and go through to the end of game night?

EJF: My day may seem atypical, but they’re my favorite days of the year. It starts off by waking up around 7 a.m. and being at school until around a quarter to 3 p.m. Following school, I have usually have high school basketball practice. By the time that is over, it is usually around 6 p.m. After a quick shower, I like to eat and do my homework and educational responsibilities for however long that takes me (which is usually an hour or two). Being that the Thunder play in Oklahoma City, game times are usually later which work to my advantage. Prior to the start of the game, I write a preview about the game. From there, my laptop becomes vital. During the game, I take notes and give full game commentary on Twitter and interact with Thunder fans answering questions and talking about the game in general. Following the game, I write a recap with takeaways and thoughts. I read it over three or four times, and send it over to my editor, Andrew Kennedy, to be published. When all is said and done, I usually finish covering the game around 12 or 1 a.m. I wake up the next morning and repeat the same process. Like I always say, you have to love what you do, and I wouldn’t take that much time if I didn’t love what I do.

SD: What’s the most beneficial or rewarding aspect of doing this? What is your personal takeaway from having the opportunity to be working as you are with the spotlight that you have and to have the respect of some of the best in the business?

EJF: Obviously, as you mentioned, one of the best rewards out of doing what I do is, in fact, the respect I receive from peers and just the overall public. But way more than that, the biggest reward and benefit of it has to be the drive for success. I feel as if what I’m doing is getting me closer to one day reaching my truest goals. Even though I am nowhere where I eventually want to be, I know that I’m in the right place and taking the right steps to becoming successful in the industry and that’s the greatest benefit I take out of it.

SD: What advice have your peers given you? Has anyone in the business or in the league ever pulled you aside and given you any words that you hold to?

EJF: For sure. Royce Young, who is a CBS Sports NBA writer and who runs the Thunder ESPN affiliated blog, was the one who not only gave exposure for my work but also was the one who told my keep writing and the more I write, the better I’ll get. Whenever I get the chance to be with Randy Foye of the Denver Nuggets, he stresses the importance of humility to me. I was lucky enough to have lunch with Larry Brown and Jim Boeheim and they told me stories about how important attitude and work ethic is. Both of them installed an idea to me that I possess that basically says that what you put it is what you’re going to get out, and with a positive attitude comes positive results. Of course, my parents and family give me advice on how to handle myself and how to handle tough situations. My mom is always there during tough times and always tells me that things aren’t always as bad as they seem, and everything will work out. In so, a lot of people give me advice that helps me in my day to day life.

SD: Considering how stressful writing, or just being prepared as a member of the media, can be, do you have any pastimes or interests that help balance you out when you’re not writing?

EJF: Of course. I get stressed a lot with not only my work, but also school work, and I think the best way to get rid of stress is to do the things you love. In so, I like to work out, whether it’s just shooting around in my driveway, lifting weights, or going for a run. I like to hang with my friends, spend time with family, and be with the people who care about me most. Other than that, I enjoy playing tennis with my dad or play video games to get my mind off things for a bit.

SD: In a sense, you’re a dream maker; you’re really making your dreams happen, and though you’ve had some help getting here, you’re doing your part. Do you have any advice for writers like you or anyone wanting to do what you do?

EJF: As Confucius once said; “Choose a job you love, and you won’t have to work a day in your life.” I love that philosophy–do what you love! I always talk to kids my age who, in my stage of adolescence, tell me they are playing three sports in high school, but don’t enjoy all three. They tell me they just do it because their friends do, and their friends wouldn’t be happy if they focused on one sport.

Don’t just do something to go along with the crowd. Yes, we all have priorities and things we must do in life (in my case, it’s school work). But, if you’re lucky enough to find something you truly love, go for it! Stick with it and never let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough. Surround yourself with positive people. I’ve been lucky to have those people in my life – family, friends, and teammates. They’ve helped me overcome my doubts, fears, and anxieties so that nothing can get in my way.

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