“Olalalalalalala, dunkorama tonight, ladies and gentlemen”, “babababababa, he started from loiiiiiiiiiiiiin Mario Elie against a defense in Gruyère time mode”, “the Shaq holds the ball like a grapefruit”. There are so many cult expressions, with unique accents, all of which are signed george eddy. As he likes to repeat Mister George, the documentary (by Clément Repellin) that will be dedicated to him on Canal + on Sunday (10:40 pm), this 66-year-old Franco-American “shook the childhood” of several generations of basketball lovers . Recruited by Charles Biétry over an encrypted channel in January 1985, he became the voice of the NBA in France during the Bulls-Jordan decade, and more. After commenting for the last time on the French team during the Eurobasket, and before facing the NBA Paris Game in Bercy on January 19 (Detroit-Chicago), he gave an interview to 20 minutes. And no, retirement time has not yet arrived for this Alabama native, as he will continue to commentate on the NBA on Canal + Africa until 2024 or 2025.
When you joined Canal + in 1985, did you think for a moment of such a professional career, and like flying NBA basketball to France?
Not because from the beginning, we didn’t know if the French public wanted to watch American basketball, or even if Canal + would continue. We just know it’s a good product, and we try to present it as best we can. With my comments, my accent, my way of introducing this sport, I hope that all this has helped to increase the popularity of the NBA in France, but also of American football, which I commented on for a long time . We couldn’t imagine the enthusiasm it would generate afterwards. We were very lucky to arrive at the right time with Canal +, when Michael Jordan and David Stern [patron de la Ligue américaine de 1984 à 2014] join the NBA. It marked the internationalization of the NBA, especially from the Dream Team in 1992. We surfed the Michael Jordan wave after the Tony Parker wave. I was probably the only basketball journalist making a living in France in the late 1980s. Now there are hundreds, and I’m glad to help grow that market.
Do you ever feel like basketball fans rise up for your comments as much as for the acrobatics of a Michael Jordan?
People told me that and I liked it. But in my mind, I didn’t say that to myself. I want to live up to the event by preparing myself well, with good anecdotes, and by renewing my comments. We had to explain everything when we started: the rules, the competition formula, the identity of the stars.
Have you contributed to the improvement of the English language in France, thanks to all your expressions related to American basketball?
In fact, I set a secret mission (smile). I inherited the pedagogical side of my father, who was a university professor. I want to provide a lot of information, but also convey to the younger generation sharing, teamwork, unity, commitment and perseverance, all these important values in sport and in life. And if in addition the American expressions I used helped some young people to improve in English, so much the better.
With the release of this documentary ” Mister George », What great basketball images come back to you from your 37-year career at Canal +?
I realized that I have been on amazing journeys and met amazing champions like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Joe Montana. I would never have experienced all that in the United States, where you have to be a former star like Charles Barkley to be a sports consultant on a national channel.
What games or career highlights made you think you had the best job in the world?
I still tell myself that every day (smiles). I’m thinking of Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals between the Bulls and Lakers. This is a historical change in the treatment of the NBA on Canal +. For six years, I only played delayed matches, and there, we were given a budget channel to follow an NBA match live from the United States. So commenting on this final in the old Chicago Stadium, where it smells like piss and beer, is the beginning of the whole modern era of the NBA on Canal +. As for the best match I’ve ever seen, it was the 2008 Olympic final between Spain with the Gasol brothers and Team USA with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. We have two Dream Teams at the top of their game, with a dazzling level of play. Live, I said it was the best fight in the history of this sport.
Where did your special relationship with Michael Jordan come from?
Whenever he goes to France, with promotional tours, Nike takes me as a consultant-translator-guide-interviewer, and to be an animator in 1990 in the small room Géo-André (Paris XVI), where Jordan did. an extraordinary spectacle. So I was in the intimacy of a world superstar. From that week on, Michael Jordan always greeted me with a smile and a tap on the shoulder, as if I were part of his close entourage. Being close to stars like Shaquille O’Neal and her is clearly not a given to everyone.
What was your relationship with the French players throughout your career?
These are the closest relationships I’ve had, with every generation of players on the French team, even Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert who had brilliant NBA careers. I discovered them in youth groups, like the Pietrus brothers in Pau for example. At that time, I felt like their brother, and now I feel like their grandfather (smile). It was almost a filial relationship with them, and they always sent me a lot of friendship and respect.
Have you sometimes had the impression of helping to launch the careers of young Frenchmen with glowing comments?
I hope I can boost the career of each of them. Right now, we are mainly talking about Victor Wembanyama, who I saw growing up, because I played with his father in the senior championship in Ile de France. This is probably the biggest expected and talent in the history of the basketball world and I accompanied him since he was 15 years old. There were probably some players I boosted more than others, but I felt it was my job to always be positive. If I happen to criticize the players, I want it to be fair and objective, and not clash or create negative buzz. I don’t want to pressure a player who is not performing well because I myself have been a pro player for 15 years [de la 1re à la 3e division française] and I know what it is. I’m a bit of a commentator old.
How exactly did you experience this tense explanation on the set of Canal + with Tony Parker, who angered you for your comments during Eurobasket 2007?
This fight with Tony Parker was an incident of course. He became the NBA champion and MVP of the final in 2007. That’s why he was at the height of his glory, but unfortunately, the French team collapsed after the European championship in Spain. To me, the Blues don’t take the classification games seriously [contre la Croatie et la Slovénie], which had high stakes due to the Beijing Olympics. From the warm-up, I felt that because the players had a dunk contest. At halftime, I came down from my journalist’s desk to yell at the players. I told them: “Wake up, you’re not going to do this to me, you absolutely have to win one of these two games to go to the Olympics”. In addition, Canal + broadcast the Olympics in 2008 so for us, having the Blues in the basketball tournament is very important. And there, they were screwing everything up, like before the Athens Olympics in 2004. It was a bit like an internal dispute in a family. The players are upset and Tony wants to defend his teammates. I was a bit in his spot, but I was fulfilling my role as an objective journalist, I wasn’t there to brush his shoes. There was a period of coolness between us, then we patched things up.
Have you had surprising offers outside the scope of your career as a journalist for Canal +?
Yes, I dubbed films, I advertised voiceover, and I had many opportunities thanks to Canal +. As soon as a project touched American sport, they came to get me. On the basketball side, I was often consulted by club presidents and coaches. Since I pretty much know everything, I was asked for my opinion. David Stern also called me when he came to Europe: I was his consultant for the European market for NBA business. I was also offered to be an agent. But I didn’t do it because I thought there was a conflict of interest in my work as a journalist. I have been a club manager, player, coach, communications director at PSG Racing, I have written seven books, so I am not confined to the role of match commentator. I was very surprised to receive the highest honor from the French Basketball Federation (FFBB) last October.