The Oklahoma City Thunder plans to stick to the tried and true formula in hiring a new TV analyst to replace Grant Long on the Fox Sports Oklahoma’s Thunder broadcasts.
“We are looking for someone who has experience and knowledge of the NBA game and can bring that to the viewers in an informational and appropriate way,” said Dan Mahoney, Thunder vice president of communications and community relations. “We definitely want someone who has played the game or coached the game at the NBA level.”
A survey of TV commentators employed by NBA teams showed that is common place. Most analysts are former players, with a few former coaches sprinkled in. The Dallas Mavericks, with quirky owner Mark Cuban, hired a sports talk show host to spice up the broadcasts.
Desmond Mason, a former Thunder and Hornet player who also starred at OSU, would appear to be a top candidate for the job. He also has experience covering the Thunder for The Franchise 107.7, but also has other interests such as his artwork and might not want to take on the responsibility of the full-time job. Mahoney said he would prefer not to split the position up between two individuals.
The Thunder also will carefully screen candidates to avoid misfires that have proved embarassing in the past. Inaugural PA announcer Jim Miller is serving an 11-year prison term for sex crimes. Long’s financial problems led to him filing bankruptcy and being sued for failure to repay debts, spurring his exit from the team last month.
The analyst position is a full-time position that also requires the person to make numerous community appearances for a team that prides itself on its community relations.
The Thunder also appears to prefer someone who will be a team booster and paint a rosy picture for viewers. A former Thunder sideline reporter complained privately that the team went overboard in putting on a “positive” front.
“We are the team broadcaster,” Mahoney said. “Our broadcast talent supports our team, our players and our coaches. But we also tell the story of the game and we find that balance.”
Brent Weber, the Thunder’s sideline reporter in its first season in Oklahoma City, said he expected to provide the positive spin when he was hired from KOKH-25, where he was a morning news anchor.
“I knew going in that was I going to be painting the glass half-full,” Weber said. “I don’t think morally I had a problem with it because I knew where the paycheck was coming from.”
Weber, who recently took a job as a journalism instructor at Auburn University, said the broadcast team is expected to put on an entertaining broadcast, not provide journalism. Weber, 52, also has extensive experience in a different role of covering sports for FSN and other outlets where he was paid by the broadcaster.
“When you work for the team, you can’t really work outside sources.”
Thunder radio voice Matt Pinto, who is entering his 25th season in the NBA as one of the league’s premier announcers, apparently is on a much longer leash than the TV team and is quick to criticize the team’s play on the air.
The Thunder’s positive approach, which is similar to many other professional teams, has proven popular with viewers. Fox Sports Oklahoma’s broadcasts consistently beat network broadcasts in local ratings when Thunder games are simulcast. The Thunder also has ranked No. 1 among NBA teams in ratings for its local TV broadcasts the past two seasons.