Jabari Young has been talking about sports for as long as he can remember, but it wasn’t until his senior year of high school that he realized it could be a career.
“We had a senior project where we had to figure out what we wanted to do. I realized then that I like to run my mouth and talk sports,” he said.
At the time, sports journalist Stephen A. Smith reported on the Philadelphia 76ers for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Young, a native of North Philadelphia, noticed Smith’s work. He told Marcom Weekly that Smith quickly became someone he wanted to be like.
“He was writing columns, he was featured on FOX Sports, on the local radio stations and I listened to him all the time,” said Young.
Back then, writers listed their numbers and emails at the bottom of their articles. So, one day, the curious Young picked up the phone and called Smith.
“He answered,” Young said, “From that point on I realized I wanted to do that.”
Young remained in contact with Smith throughout his career, but it would take him some time before he joined Smith as a sports journalist.
“My upbringing was similar to what you see in a lot of urban communities. I was just a young black kid trying to figure out how to thrive in my own right and my own skin,” said Young, “So you go through several experiments trying to decide what you want to pursue and how you want to pursue it.”
After high school, Young pursued community college, but he “was so worried about the social scene” that he became too distracted to focus on anything else.
When Young realized he might flunk out of community college, he decided to take a break. Young started working at a car dealership, which was the turning point he believed he needed.
“Working at a car dealership taught me a lot about hustle. It taught me how important a degree would be for me. I enjoyed that process but I didn’t want to do that work for the rest of my life.”
When Young realized that journalism was the route he should take, he enrolled at Temple University where he put all his effort into mastering his craft. Early on, he remembers one of his first articles where he forgot to put the score of the game – a mistake that could have devastated Young, but didn’t.
“It’s one of those lessons you learn early on. You get feedback, you get your confidence up, then you understand that you could be good at this if you put effort into it,” he said, “That kind of just set the stage for where I was headed and the rest of it was just putting the work in.”
Young’s work in sports journalism spans nearly 10 years. He wrote for The Athletic and the San Antonio Express-News as an NBA/Spurs beat reporter, where he broke the story about superstar Kawhi Leonard requesting a trade from the team.
In 2019, Young became a national sports business reporter for CNBC, Comcast’s leading cable TV channel for business news. Before Young joined CNBC, the role remained unfilled since 2014. Two years in, Young is enjoying his new role in a way he wishes everyone grinding would.
“You get to a point where you look around the room and are just happy with where you are. I think as writers we don’t do this enough. I stopped thinking about what I wanted to do long term and just started thinking about the moment,” said Young.
When Young does ponder the future, he hopes to leave his role in a place that allows his successor to be even more successful.
“I want to leave the brand and the sports business coverage in an elite space. Pass it off to the next guy or girl and teach them all the things I’ve found out. Have them take all the relationships I’ve built at CNBC and outside these doors and turn it into something else.”
Young believes that building and nurturing relationships has made him successful and will make anyone successful.
“We all want to do great jobs. But sometimes you can lose yourself. If you don’t remember you’re human at the end of the day,” he continued, “There are people on the other side as well. They could be having a bad day and going through something that we don’t know. So, if you never forget the human element, your instincts will allow you to tell the best stories, make the best content and the element of storytelling will take care of itself.”
Rae Onwumelu is a correspondent for Marcom Weekly. Onwumelu's writing and reporting have appeared in The Huffington Post, Blavity and CityBeat. She previously served as a feature writer for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and content specialist for The Educational Theatre Association.