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NBA Play-By-Play Man Who Coined 'Rattlesnake Jam' Honed Skills in Chicago

By Justin Breen | November 4, 2015 5:53am
 Brian Davis interviews Oklahoma City's Steven Adams.
Brian Davis interviews Oklahoma City's Steven Adams.
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Courtesy Brian Davis; Richard A. Rowe/Getty

CHICAGO — Oklahoma City Thunder play-by-play man Brian Davis stood on the shoulders of Chicago broadcasting giants in the 20 years he spent in the City of Big Shoulders.

"I learned from Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd, Tom Dore, Pat Foley, Joe McConnell, Wayne Larrivee and Dave Eanet," said Davis, who has been the Thunder's lone play-by-play TV broadcaster since the team moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.

"Everything I learned that I have taken with me, 95 percent was from the people I met around Chicago," Davis said. "I got to be around people who were both incredibly knowledgeable and incredibly talented. All I needed to do was sit back and watch how those people went about their work."

Davis, who will be in town Thursday for the Bulls-Thunder game at United Center, worked in Chicago from 1980-2000 at several Downtown radio and TV stations, including WBBM, WGN, WMVP and what's now Comcast SportsNet. The Northwestern graduate held positions as a news and sports reporter, play-by-play man, and pre- and postgame show host.

Former Blackhawks goalie Darren Pang, who did Hawks pre- and postgame duties with Davis in the 1990s, said he's not surprised Davis has reached the pinnacle of basketball broadcasting.

"He always impressed me with his knowledge and how sharp his brain was," said Pang, who is part of broadcasts for the St. Louis Blues with Fox Sports Midwest and nationally with CBC and Sportsnet. "Working with Brian every day, he taught me how to speak slowly. I was kind of a rat-a-tat-tat broadcaster at the beginning. He really gave me the confidence to slow down and just have a conversation about hockey."

Justin Breen first interviewed Davis 20 years ago for a school project:

Davis left Chicago in 2000 for Seattle, where he earned a gig as the Seahawks' radio play-by-play guy. After three years in the NFL, he got a job with the then Seattle Sonics as their TV host and sideline reporter, and when the team moved to Oklahoma City, officials asked if he'd like to be the Thunder's play-by-play TV broadcaster.

The Thunder's fans have taken a liking to Davis and have created Twitter and Facebook pages in his honor. Along the way, he's created some signature phrases and nicknames including:

"The Junkyard Dog" — for Thunder star Kevin Durant

"Chicken salad out of chicken something else" — when a messy play turns into something great

"Thunder by a Stickman" — when Oklahoma City is leading by a point

"Uncorking a little rattlesnake jam" — when a massive slam occurs.

The rattlesnake jam line popped in Davis' head after a particularly strong Durant dunk. Davis said Durant threw the ball down so fast, "I saw the image of a rattlesnake striking."

"And people can identify with that phrase here," Davis said of the Thunder fans, who are part of one of the NBA's smallest markets and cheer for the state's only major professional team. "When I throw out something like that, it's part of my job to connect with the audience and with the community. I know how [our fans] think, I know how they look at life. In a lot of cases, it's how I look at life, too."

Davis credits his broadcasting ability from learning how to tell stories from his mother's family who were coal miners in West Virginia.

"In that part of the world, people are full of stories," said Davis, a Baltimore native who graduated from Northwestern in 1977.

Davis, 59, hopes he never leaves Oklahoma City, where he lives with his wife of 37 years, Judy, who has a master's degree from the University of Chicago. Davis said he had always hoped his decades of hard work in the business would lead to a consistent job where he and Judy could enjoy offseasons together. He's been able to find that in Oklahoma's capital, and this summer Davis and his wife spent three weeks in Ghana helping school children as part of the PambeGhana.org nonprofit Judy supports.

"She's put up with a lot, and we finally have those long stretches where we can do things together," said Davis, who has a grown son and daughter. "And to come here to be the first ever voice of the first ever professional franchise in the region, it's been an incredible opportunity."

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