They sat up in bed in their New Jersey home, late on a Tuesday night in October. Ian Eagle and his wife, Alisa, pulled up the Sirius XM app on her phone, and they quickly became fixated on the first half of the Clippers’ season-opening game against the Lakers.
Even though TNT televised the NBA game, the audio from Sirius painted a much more vivid picture in their minds.
Their 22-year-old son, Noah, was making his debut as the Clippers’ radio play-by-play voice. And it was surreal.
“We’re looking at one another with a feeling of amazement, that somehow this has happened,” Eagle said.
The 50-year-old Eagle is the longtime voice of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, starting with the team when he was 24, and is now well-respected as part of CBS’ NFL and college basketball coverage. He saw his son’s debut as momentous from a couple of angles.
“It’s a pinch-me moment because, as a parent, here’s our son, 3,000 miles away, calling an NBA game,” he said. “But as a fellow broadcaster, how a 22-year-old is doing a game at this level … it’s incredible.”
It was only about a week after Noah Eagle’s graduation from Syracuse in May that he accepted the Clippers’ offer. The team finalized a decision to move Brian Sieman from radio to Prime Ticket’s TV platform as the successor to the retiring Ralph Lawler.
A month earlier, Eagle had taken two red-eye flights to make it back to Syracuse in time for classes. In one instance, he was returning from L.A. after calling a simulated game with potential broadcast partner Corey Maggette; in the other, he was returning from Seattle after a one-on-one with Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.
“I said at the end of the interview: ‘Mr. Ballmer, if you give me this job, the Clippers will be my life.’ And he said, ‘OK,’ and we shook hands,” Noah Eagle said.
And now Eagle is living in a Playa Vista apartment up the street from the Clippers’ training facility.
“Coming from college to this professional level, maybe just like a player would be, I’ve dreamed of all this, and everything is living up to what I dreamed about,” said Eagle, three weeks into calling every game solo on the Clippers’ KLAC-AM (570) flagship, with some cross-talk in and out of breaks with the station’s well-versed game host Adam Ausland.
Eagle interviewing Eagle?— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 17, 2018
Before calling @Cuse_MBB vs. Miami for CBS, Ian Eagle was interviewed by someone he probably knows well: his son Noah, who is calling the game for Syracuse’s WAER-FM. pic.twitter.com/uTkUNgcYjR
It appears clear that Eagle’s L.A. landing has more to do with talent and maturity than his father’s success in the business.
Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket executive producer John Hefner reached out last season to Olivia Stomski, the director of the Syracuse Newhouse Sports Media Center. They’d worked together at the regional sports network years ago.
“I had no problem stepping up for Noah,” Stomski said. “But that being said, I remember asking them, ‘You’re not actually going to hire a 22-year-old to be the Clippers guy?’ And the response was, ‘No, of course not.’
“Then they met Noah and were like, ‘Yeah, he might be the guy.’ And all I could say was, ‘Yeah, I told you. He’s different.’ ”
Gillian Zucker, the Clippers’ president of business operations, said the team already had Eagle on its radar based on referrals from half a dozen independent sources and on Eagle’s work for NBA TV.
“Fox having him on its list was another proof point that here was an incredibly talented rising star,” Zucker said. “It was only amplified when he blew everyone away in the interviews. We realized he would be part of the history of some NBA franchise. After we met him, we felt like it needed to be ours.”
In August 2018, Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations for the Clippers, reached out to Ian Eagle, whom he knew from coaching the Nets from 2004 to 2010. Frank wanted to gauge the elder Eagle’s interest in the Clippers’ pending opening.
But he said he’d just signed a new Nets deal, and Frank discussed with him other Nets TV analysts the Clippers were considering. As the conversation turned toward updates on their personal lives, Eagle spoke of Noah and his college journey.
“At the end of the call, Lawrence said, ‘Well, maybe I’ll just shock the world and we’ll hire Noah,’ ” Eagle said. “We both laughed.”
Stomski said that although she knew the apple hadn’t fallen far from the Syracuse Orange tree —Ian Eagle is a 1990 graduate of the university — the thing she felt the Clippers needed to understand was “this wasn’t Ian Eagle 2.0. Noah is his own person, has his own sound, has a strong sense of himself. When I was 22, I’m not sure I had that much self-awareness.”
The younger Eagle said he realized how many successful father-son broadcasters there had been in TV and radio sports, and he wasn’t dodging hints of having had a special advantage getting to this point so quickly.
“I don’t run away from that because why should I?” Noah said. “My dad is a great person and has been a great mentor and teacher for me.
“I know I’m young, but I want to try to use that to my advantage. I think I’m an old soul living in a young body, and I will try as much to get a quote in from [the movie] “Airplane!” while at the same time try to drop a lyric from A Boogie wit da Hoodie’s newest album.”
Ian Eagle admitted his son benefited by “having no fear or intimidation his whole life when it comes to public speaking. He knows that game 10 will be better than game one, and game 20 will be better than game 10, and so on. He’s a tough critic of himself.
“It’s the highest compliment when your child is interested in pursuing what you do for a living. But we both know this is very difficult. It’s not an easy business to enter and expect results right away. There’s a confluence of events that led Noah to this. You either deliver or don’t when you’re in a life-changing moment. I think he’s handled this moment very well.”