“I don't believe a word Brian Davis says. Brian Davis is told what to say.”
— Jim Traber on his Sports Animal Radio Network show Monday afternoon.
It's highly unusual for a sports talk show host on a major league team's flagship radio station to so blatantly rip the team's TV play-by-play announcer. But such was the case Monday when Traber dug into Davis, who had discussed the Thunder's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers that morning on WWLS-FM 98.1/The Sports Animal.
Traber said he didn't buy Davis' explanation that the team was experimenting with Kevin Martin in a late-game situation instead of playing defensive-whiz Thabo Sefolosha to cover Cavs star Kyrie Irving, who shredded the Thunder for 35 points.
“That to me is just an excuse for a bad coaching move,” Traber said in a phone interview. “I've been doing radio for 20 years, and if I think Bob Stoops or Mike Gundy or Eddie Sutton or Scott Brooks, whoever it is, is doing something that I don't like, I'm going to say it.”
Traber has long complained that Davis and analyst sidekick Grant Long offer few, if any, negative comments about the Thunder's play during game telecasts. He even has taken a few shots at radio voice Matt Pinto.
“Everybody knows how I feel about Brian Davis and Grant Long,” Traber said. “All you have to do is listen to their broadcasts. There is never anything negative that happens to the team.”
As a former Arizona Diamondbacks TV analyst, Traber knows what it's like to be a broadcaster paid by the team. But he said, unlike Davis and Long, he mostly had free rein to voice his opinions. “There might have been a couple of times where I might have said something on the air that they weren't happy with and I was told about it,” he said.
Traber said he believes Thunder broadcasters are forced to stick with a positive company line, similar to that of the San Antonio Spurs, even in face of major controversy such as Russell Westbrook's tantrum last week when he stormed off the bench after being yanked from the game. He's also disappointed by the lack of Thunder players appearing on his show.
“We want to be a big market around here, but we don't want to do what it takes to be a big market,” Traber said. “When Russell Westbrook goes off like he did a couple of days ago, if that was in Boston, a week later he would be on the radio and the guys in Boston would say, ‘Hey, Russell, what the heck happened out there?' That's what a big-league market is.”
To the Thunder's credit, the team's apparent positive broadcasting philosophy doesn't apply to sports talk radio, even when negative comments — which some might consider personal attacks — come from the team's flagship station.
“My educated guess is that the team spends little time focusing on ‘sports talk radio' chatter, as we have not once received a complaint regarding our on-air commentary,” Larry Bastida, market manager for Cumulus Media, which owns the Sports Animal, said in an email. “The station's relationship with the team has been, and continues to be, extremely healthy.”
That relationship also has produced strong ratings for the Sports Animal — on talk shows, pregame and postgame shows and game broadcasts.
“There is a direct correlation with the ratings and the state's unprecedented passion for the team,” Bastida said. “We look forward to many years of continued partnership with the Thunder.”
Dan Mahoney, the Thunder's vice president of communications/community relations, agreed the team's relationship with the Sports Animal is strong, but he also defended his broadcasters.
“The Sports Animal has been a great partner,” Mahoney said. “Brian Davis is a first-rate, experienced professional. Grant Long played 15 years in the NBA. They are experts in the game. Matt Pinto has done an excellent job leading the broadcast crew on the radio side. We are very proud of the job they do in delivering the game to our fans.”
Davis, who preferred not to respond directly to Traber's comments, complimented the Thunder telecasts on Fox Sports Oklahoma.
“Our entire crew works hard to put on what we think is one of the best shows in the NBA,” he said. “We're very proud of what we do, that's bring the excitement of Thunder basketball to our fans.”
Local television ratings — which likely will finish as the highest in the NBA by a large margin — indicate that most fans are happy with the game telecasts. Given a choice between watching the FSOK game telecast or the national feed of the same game on TNT or ESPN, viewers have picked FSOK by a big margin. In five simulcasts with ESPN, FSOK has averaged a 7.2 rating (percent of TV households) to 5.2 for the national network. In two simulcasts with TNT, FSOK owns a 8.1 to 3.7 advantage.
That choice affects the type of commentary they will receive. While incidents such as Westbrook's tantrum and Kevin Durant's technicals get much attention on the national networks, they are noticeably downplayed on FSOK.