50 Years Of WBBM Newsradio Sports Reporters: Brian Davis

Dave Kerner
May 29, 2018 - 9:10 am

Brian Davis/Facebook

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- In honor of WBBM Newsradio's 50th anniversary, some of WBBM Newradio's sportscasters, past and present, have shared their Newsradio memories.

WBBM Newsradio's Dave Kerner spoke with Brian Davis to look back at his career with the station. 

Kerner: One of the sports stalwarts at WBBM over the tenure that is now, of course, the 50th Anniversary would be that of Brian Davis, who is currently the television play-by-play voice of the Oklahoma City Thunder, but of course worked here at WBBM in the late 80’s and 90’s. Brian can certainly offer his thoughts not only on the operations of ‘BBM back in the day, but certainly the big Chicago sports happenings that were going on then. Brian, we were just kind of going over some things, and really…you were a part of the first three championships for Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

"Yeah. You know, those were electrifying days in Chicago sports, because the Bulls were building up to the championship. I joined ‘BBM in the late 80’s when they were still banging their heads on the Detroit Pistons, trying to get to that next level, which they eventually did.  But the Blackhawks were in the process of becoming a contender for the Stanley Cup – they made the Finals in 1992 – the Bears were still in their heyday, the Sox and Cubs were getting a taste of victory.  Those were great times to part of what I thought was, pound-for-pound, the hardest working sports staff in the city of Chicago," Davis said.

Kerner: Tell me a little about covering the Bulls in those years, because that was sort of the blossoming of the franchise in general – Michael finally beating the Pistons and then moving on to championships.

"Maybe my perspective was a little bit different, and ours as a staff – and at that time it was Dave Eanet, Eric Brown and myself – maybe our perspective was more thousand-foot instead of 30,000-foot, because we were just trying to grind it out day-to-day.  But what I think I remember most of all was not so much the storyline, and the arc of the Bulls becoming a championship, but kind of the way we were allowed to go about our business back then. The Bulls practiced at the multiplex in Deerfield. We had access to players and coaches coming and going off the floor. The access that we had to the players at the arena and on the road, particularly during playoff series, was a lot more open than it is now. And one of the things that was great about that was, that allowed us to develop relationships with players and members of the coaching staff," Davis said. "In the end we’re storytellers, so that allowed us to tell better stories. I think the Bulls had never really had great sustained success, so there was still that kind of ‘show me’ sort of mentality, I think, in the marketplace. Everybody knew what they had in Michael Jordan, but there was a period where Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen were going through their developmental stages, and I know at the time members of the coaching staff were worried about whether Horace and Scottie would ever really ‘get it’ and become the players that they did. They most certainly did, but at that time there was a question. And then, the Bulls didn’t really get over the top until they made the move…they traded Charles Oakley, who a lot of people had considered to be an integral, necessary part of anything the Bulls were going to do as far as winning a championship. They make the deal for Bill Cartwright, and then they pick up John Paxson.  And those were the two final pieces of the championship puzzle. So it wasn’t like they started the 1990-91 season as this juggernaut that everybody penciled in as a favorite to win the championship. It was a process. And the payoff to that process…it kind of crept up slowly, and by the time they got there, into the playoffs in ’91, everybody kind of knew what they had. But it took a little while. So we were all sitting there, rubbing our hands together, going ‘Okay, big fella, bring it on, we know what we got here.’ That process of discovery was actually part of the fun of the journey."

Kerner: Tell me also about the Bears at that time. Of course, a few years removed as a Super Bowl winner, and unfortunately kind of on the wane. What was that like, dealing with that?

"Well, you know, any team with Mike Ditka was always good copy. It was always going to be entertaining. I’ll tell you what I remember about Ditka is, that after the Bears would lose a difficult game, everybody would sort of shuffle into the tent outside the locker room at Soldier Field, and Ditka would come storming to the podium. There were questions that needed to be asked. And people would…a lot of the writers, a lot of the radio and TV reporters, would kind of stand around looking at their shoes. Nobody wanted to ask those questions: 'Mike, what was the turning point in the game? Was it this fumble, that interception?' That sort of thing.  Even when the team was struggling there was a spirit about the team. Walter Payton…I remember guys like Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael, guys like Jim McMahon, who were not easy people to cover or to be around as members of the media – but there was always good copy around that team. For what we do for a living, I always appreciated that," he said.

Kerner: Tell me about working in the newsroom here. There have been so many great people, and I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some of those that you worked with back in the day.

"One of the things that I still take a great deal of pride in is, the newsroom was about the business of journalism. Whether that was on the news side, or whether that was part of the sports staff. I mean, look, at that time, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, we were following, in the sports department, a tradition that included Brent Musberger, and Brad Palmer, and Rich King, and Dave Eanet, who has become a luminary in Chicago sports radio. And then later, the tradition continues with Josh Liss and Jeff Joniak and that crew. I think we were always really aware that we were upholding the standard. And it had to do with the CBS Radio standard that I think was the ‘gold standard’ in broadcast journalism.  We took that very seriously," Davis said. 

"And I know on the sports side…look, we love breaking stories. I broke my fair share…particularly, they were difficult stories. The firing of Jim Fregosi as the manager of the White Sox – I called him at home in Florida after he had had the meeting with Larry Himes, the general manager, where Himes had let him go. I literally caught him as he walked in the door, and he picked up the phone, and I said ‘hey, Jim, did they release you?’ And he said ‘yeah, they did.’ Boom. I said ‘do you mind if I roll tape?’ and we had a story. We broke that story. The same…when Don Zimmer got fired as manager of the Cubs, that happened in New York, the Cubs were playing the Mets.  I tracked him down in his hotel room in New York City and got that story.  It was out that he’d been fired, but nobody had gotten hold of him. The beat writers had got him, but nobody on the broadcast side had. I enjoyed, and I know everybody that I worked with enjoyed, beating the competition. Kind of that old ‘front page’ mentality. I enjoyed writing the headlines and beating the competition to the story. That’s what it was all about, and that’s what WBBM was all about at that time, and still is today."

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Kerner: Finally, is there maybe a funny story that comes to mind over your time? Maybe somebody you covered, something you heard from somebody that you didn’t expect. Anything like that?

"Well, you know, I’d have to think about that, because there are so many stories. But I’ll tell you this – there are two things that I’m personally proud of.  One is that, remember, 25 years ago, they didn’t do wrap-around programming on radio and TV. We put the Blackhawks pre- and post-game show on the air at ‘BBM the year before they went to the Finals in ’92. Chris Madsen and I put that show on the air in 1991. I’m very proud of that because we were kind of pioneers as far as that goes. There’s another one though, and this was in the fall of 1993, and, Dave, I call it ‘Hell Day.’ Because on that day in 1993: Michael Jordan retired, the White Sox were playing in the American League Championship Series against Toronto at Comiskey Park, and it was a day game. And so Eanet and Brown were at Comiskey at the baseball game and in the middle of all of that…you’ve got Jordan, you’ve got the White Sox in the playoffs, and then the Cubs fired Larry Himes, who’s the general manager! We’re only given two minutes as a sportscaster, right? I was begging for extra time, and they said ‘well, you can have 2:30…’ I had two arms, and I needed nine that day. It was unbelievable. It was one of the most stressful, but it was also one of those adrenaline-high, days that you never forget. That one will be with me until the time I breathe my last, I promise you," Davis said.