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Nov 13 / Elliott Pohnl

Remembering Bleacher Report writer Thad Novak, 1979-2014

Thad NovakThad Novak’s passion was college basketball.

Thad was someone many people who work at Bleacher Report never had the privilege of meeting. Yet many of those same people gained a level of respect for him, and none of them had a bad word to say about him or his work. Many of us never really knew how sick he was.

Novak, who described himself in his Bleacher Report bio as “an ex-academic scientist who’s having a lot more fun trying to make a career out of sportswriting,” died on Nov. 1 of complications from cystic fibrosis.

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.

I worked with Thad early in his time at Bleacher Report when he was part of the Breaking News Team. His perspective was unique. He had a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He valued history and sharing it with his readers.

Upon hearing the news of his passing, several B/R writers expressed gratitude for Thad offering them advice, unsolicited, as they entered the world of sportswriting. He was an editor’s dream.

So when Louisville and Minnesota tip Friday night in Puerto Rico, we know that Thad would have been watching and eager to recount what he saw.

He could have written about the unique father-son matchup pitting Rick against Richard Pitino. Or he could have written about how Minnesota would have no answer for Montrezl Harrell. Or how Andre Hollins would shred the Cardinals’ patented pressure D.

Whatever the angle, there’s no doubt Thad would have written it with the uncommon passion he showed for college basketball. He’ll be missed.

Thad’s family says contributions to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation are welcome at this page.

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Elliott Pohnl is Bleacher Report’s Assistant Managing Editor.

  • Donald Wood

    Very sad. Spent some time working with Thad on the Breaking News team and he was a class act. Best wishes to his family.

  • Timothy Rapp

    So, so sorry to hear this. My condolences to his friends and family.

  • Paul

    For anyone wishing to share their thoughts with Thad’s friends and family, there is a public FB group –

  • mdixon85

    It’s been almost 3 years since I worked for Bleacher Report. I’d be lying if I said I worked much with Thad or that I knew him that well. But he seemed like a genuinely nice and caring person every second I worked with him.

    Deep condolences to his family and those who did know him well.

  • Ralph Novak

    Mr. Pohnl: Thanks for the thoughtful and eloquent tribute to Thad. As a magazine editor as well as Thad’s father, I was always impressed(and pleased) at his ability to immerse himself in a subject, whether it was literature, biology or basketball. I was the lucky beneficiary of his ability to articulate his boundless intellectual curiosity, enjoying conversations on everything from gene splicing to the motion ofense, from Shakespeare and Marquez to Callipari and Russell. I always knew I would love my son but I never expected to learn so much from him.
    Ralph Novak

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  • BrooklynJoeyG

    I went to school with Thad and he remains the smartest and most unique person I have ever met. I had the privledge of randomly bumping into Thad back in our hometown a little over a year ago and found out he was writing for BR. He immediately became my idol and I started reading his articles religiously. We were never super close but it was always a pleasure to know this awesome human. Rest easy, sir. You will be missed.

  • Yuen-Ling Chan

    I met Thad while he was a graduate student in the Piccirilli Lab at the University of Chicago. One year, we were attending an RNA science meeting at the University of Wisconsin. A few of us from UC visited the Botanical garden on campus during breaks. I saw literature codes inscribed on more than a dozen tags next to some plants, and wondered where the codes were originated. To my great surprise and delight, Thad knew them all, and told me the origin of each code, and explained the context of some of them. I seldom met a scientist who knows so much literature and I was greatly impressed by Thad. Till this day, I recount this impressive story to my colleagues. At UC, we miss him. Deep condolences to his family and friends. Yuen-Ling Chan