Taste George Eddy: ‘I was close to a world superstar’
“Olalalalalalalala, I’ve got a dunker tonight, ladies and gentlemen”, “babababababa, he started loiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin against the defense in Gruyère time from Mario Elie”, “Shaq keeps the ball like a grapefruit”. So many religious expressions, with an inimitable accent, all signed George Eddy. As he likes to repeat Mr. George, a documentary dedicated to him on Sunday (22:40) on Canal + (by Clément Repellin), this 66-year-old Franco-American “shook the childhood” of several generations of basketball fans. Hired by Charles Biétry on the encrypted channel in January 1985, he became the voice of the NBA during the Bulls-Jordan decade and beyond in France. He gave an interview after commenting on the French team for the last time during Eurobasket and before deciding the NBA Paris Game at Bercy on January 19 (Detroit-Chicago). 20 minutes. No, it is not yet time to retire for this Alabama native, as he will continue to commentate the NBA on Canal + Africa until 2024 or 2025.
When you joined Canal+ in 1985, did you imagine for a moment such a professional career and such a flight of NBA basketball in France?
Not at all, because before we didn’t know if the French public would want to watch American basketball or even if Canal+ would continue. We just knew it was a great product and tried to showcase it as much as we could. With my comments, my accent, the way I present this sport, I hope that all this has helped to increase the popularity of the NBA in France, as well as American football, which I have commented on for a long time. We could not have imagined the enthusiasm that would follow. We were very lucky to arrive at the right time with Canal+ along with Michael Jordan and David Stern [patron de la Ligue américaine de 1984 à 2014] He joined the NBA. It marked the internationalization of the NBA, especially the Dream Team of 1992. We went through the Michael Jordan wave, then the Tony Parker wave. I was probably the only basketball journalist doing it in France in the late 1980s. Now there are hundreds of basketball players and I’m very happy to help this market grow.
Have you ever felt basketball fans get as high as your comments for Michael Jordan’s acrobatics?
People told me that and I liked it. But I wasn’t telling myself that in my head. I wanted to live up to the event by preparing myself well, with nice anecdotes, and updating my comments. When we started, we had to explain everything: the rules, the formula of the competition, the identity of the stars.
Have you contributed to the improvement of the English language in France thanks to all your statements about American basketball?
In fact, I set myself a secret mission (smiles). I inherited the pedagogical side of my father, who was a university professor. In addition to giving a lot of information, I wanted to share all these important values of teamwork, solidarity, commitment and perseverance in sports, as in life, to the younger generations. Besides, if the American expressions I use can help some young people improve their English, so much the better.
With the screening of this documentary ” Mr. George », What great basketball images have come back to you from your 37-year career at Canal+ so far?
I realize that I have been on amazing journeys and met amazing champions like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Joe Montana. You have to be a former star like Charles Barkley to be a sports consultant on a national channel.
What games or career advancements made you think you had the best job in the world?
I still tell myself every day (smiles). I’m already thinking back to Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals between the Bulls and the Lakers. This marked a turning point in the history of NBA treatment on Canal+. For six years, I only played delayed games, and there the channel gave us a budget to watch an NBA match live from the US. So, commenting on this finals in the old Chicago Stadium, smelling of piss and beer, was the beginning of the entire modern era of the NBA on Canal+. As for the best match I’ve commented on, it was the 2008 Olympic final between the Gasol brothers’ Spain and Team USA with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. We had two Dream Teams with dazzling levels of play. Live, I said, this is the best match in the history of sports.
Where does your special bond with Michael Jordan come from?
Every time I came to France with promotional tours, Nike took me as a consultant-interpreter-guide-interviewer and even animator in the small Geo-Andre (Paris XVI) room that Jordan did in 1990. an extraordinary spectacle. So I was close to a world superstar. From that week on, Michael Jordan always greeted me with a smile and a pat on the shoulder, as if I were part of his inner circle. Being close to Shaquille O’Neal and stars like him is not for everyone.
How was your relationship with the French players throughout your career?
These are the closest connections I’ve had with every generation of player on the French team, whether it’s Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert, who went on to illustrious careers in the NBA. I discovered them in youth teams, like the Pietrus brothers in Pau. At that time, I felt like their elder brother, and today I felt like their grandfather (laughs). It is almost a filial relationship with them and they have always shown me a lot of friendship and respect.
Have you ever had the impression of helping young Frenchmen launch their careers through brilliant commentary?
I hope I have boosted the careers of each of them. Right now we’re talking about Victor Vembanyama, who I saw growing up because I played with his father in the senior championships in Ile-de-France. Probably the biggest perspective and talent in world basketball history and I have accompanied him since he was 15 years old. There are probably some players that I boosted more than others, but I always felt it was my job to be positive. If it happened to me to criticize the players, I wanted it to be fair and objective, not confrontational and negative noise. Being a professional player myself for 15 years, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on a player who was performing poorly. [de la 1re à la 3e division française] and i know what it is. I’m a bit of a commenter old school.
During Eurobasket 2007, how did you experience this tense explanation on the set of the Canal + series with Tony Parker, who was angry with you for your comments?
This collision with Tony Parker was, of course, an event. He had just become an NBA champion and the 2007 Finals MVP. Therefore, he was at the height of his fame, but unfortunately, the French team crashed after the European Championship in Spain. For me, the Blues didn’t take the qualifiers seriously [contre la Croatie et la Slovénie], which had a big part in the Beijing Olympics. I felt it before the warm-up because the players were having a dunk contest. At halftime, I got down from my reporter’s desk to shout at the players. I told them: “Wake up, you’re not going to do this to me, you have to win one of these two games to go to the Olympics.” In addition, because Canal + broadcast the Olympics in 2008, it was very important for us to have the Blues in the basketball tournament. And there, as before the Athens Olympics in 2004, they turned everything upside down. It was a bit like an internal family feud. The players were upset and Tony wanted to defend his teammates. He attacked me a bit on the spot, but I was doing my role as an objective journalist, I wasn’t there to brush his shoes. There was a cold period between us, then we patched things up.
Have you received surprising offers that are outside the scope of your career as a journalist at Canal+?
Yes, I dubbed movies, did commercial voiceovers and had many opportunities thanks to Canal+. As soon as a project touched American sports, they came to get me. On the basketball side, club presidents and coaches often consulted with me. They asked my opinion because I was somewhat aware of everything. David Stern also called me when he came to Europe: I was his European market consultant for his NBA business. They also offered me to become an agent. But I never did because I thought my work as a journalist had a conflict of interest. I’ve been club manager, player, coach, communications director at PSG Racing, I’ve written seven books, so I’ve never been limited to the role of match commentator. I was even surprised to receive the highest award from the French Basketball Federation (FFBB) in October.