Remembering an extraordinary college hoops blogger; kept writing despite suffering from cystic fibrosis

I was not familiar with the work of Thad Novak, but many people were. His college basketball blog at Bleacher Report registered more than 10 million page views.

What makes that number extraordinary is that Novak continued to write despite suffering from the debilitating effects of cystic fibrosis. Sadly, the disease recently claimed his life at the age of 34.

Jay Levin of writes:

Thad cranked out 1,257 columns — some of them from hospital rooms while he was being treated for complications of cystic fibrosis.

The genetic disorder damages the lungs and is typically fatal within 40 years. “When he was born, it was not expected he’d live too long, but we had our hopes,” Thad’s mother, Janet King, said. “But he did really well with it.”

Cystic fibrosis never defined Thaddeus E. Novak.

“His goal was to live life like he didn’t have cystic fibrosis,” his father, Ralph Novak, said.

“It never held him back,” lifelong pal Richard Ellenson said. “If anything, it may have spurred him on to do more things.”


His mother, father and stepfather, who watched Thad overachieve in the face of adversity, were supportive of his change in course. “The fact is, I wanted him to do what he wanted to do,” his mother said. “I think in some ways science was a great fit for Thad, but in other ways, it wasn’t. I always felt he was more of a humanities person, to tell you the truth.”

Ralph Novak, a retired journalist, said his son was a “born writer” who grew bored with science. “He came to realize that a lot about laboratory science is waiting around for things to happen,” the father said. “Sports is a little more lively.”

Decision made, Thad went back to school — this time, Columbia University — for a master’s in journalism.

In January 2011, while living in Chicago, he started writing for the Bleacher Report. Rather than travel to games, he voraciously studied college basketball and turned out column after column of analysis and predictions.

The Ten Most Polarizing Coaches in College Basketball.

The Top 25 Teams in the History of March Madness.

Big Ten Basketball: Ranking the Top 5 Players at Every Position.

Ellenson set up a Google alert for Thad’s name and was amazed that nearly every day would bring another column.

Elliott Pohnl of Bleacher Report wrote about his memories of Novak:

When the NCAA Tournament tipped off on March 18, he told his editors he wasn’t feeling well, but he wanted assignments. He wanted to chronicle the next Bryce Drew or Shabazz Napier.

He wanted to be a part of the Madness.

Even as he prepared to enter the hospital for a double lung transplant this summer, he kept writing. He apologized for missing deadlines and promised to turn pieces around as soon as possible. He published two articles while laid up in the hospital and even did a radio appearance.

Novak should serve as an inspiration to young writers trying to break into the business. Obstacles don’t matter if you have desire and perseverance.


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