“Olalalalalalala, it’s dunkorama tonight, ladies and gentlemen”, “babababababa, he started from loiiiiiiiiiiiin Mario Elie against a defense in Gruyère time mode”, “the Shaq holds the ball like a grapefruit”. So many cult expressions, with an inimitable accent, which are all signed George Eddy. As he likes to repeat in Mister Georgethe documentary (by Clément Repellin) which will be dedicated to him on Canal + Sunday (10:40 p.m.), this 66-year-old Franco-American “rocked the childhood” of several generations of basketball enthusiasts. Recruited by Charles Biétry on the encrypted channel in January 1985, he became the voice of the NBA in France during the Bulls-Jordan decade, and well beyond. After having commented for the last time on the French team during the Eurobasket, and before tackling the NBA Paris Game at Bercy on January 19 (Detroit-Chicago), he granted an interview to 20 Minutes. And no, the hour of retirement has not yet come for this native of Alabama, since he will continue to commentate on 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 at the beginning, we didn’t know if the French public would want to watch American basketball, or even if Canal + was going to continue. We just knew it was a beautiful product, and we tried to showcase it as best we could. With my comments, my accent, my way of introducing this sport, I hope that all this has helped to increase the popularity of the sport in France. NBA, but also American football that I commented on for a long time. We could not imagine the enthusiasm that it was going to 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] joined the NBA. It marked the internationalization of the NBA, especially from the Dream Team of 1992. We surfed the wave Michael Jordan then on the Tony Parker wave. I was probably the only basketball journalist who made a living from that in France in the late 1980s. Now there are hundreds of them, and I’m delighted to have helped grow that market.
Did you sometimes have the feeling that basketball fans rose as much for your comments as for the acrobatics of a Michael Jordan?
People told me that and I liked it. But in my head, I didn’t tell myself that. I wanted 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 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 expressions related to American basketball?
In fact, I had kind of set myself a secret mission (smile). I inherited the pedagogical side of my father, who was a university professor. I wanted to give a lot of information, but also convey to the younger generations sharing, teamwork, solidarity, commitment and perseverance, all these important values in sport as in life. And if in addition the American expressions that I used were able to help some young people to improve in English, so much the better.
With the release of this documentary « Mister George », What great basketball images have come back to you so far from your 37-year career on Canal +?
I realize that I’ve been on amazing journeys and met amazing champions like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Joe Montana. I could never have experienced all that in the United States, where you have to be a former star like Charles Barkley to become 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 (smile). I’m already thinking of Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals between the Bulls and the Lakers. It was a turning point in the history of the treatment of the NBA on Canal +. For six years, I only played delayed matches, and there, the channel gave us the budget to follow an NBA match live from the United States. So commenting on this final in the old Chicago Stadium, where it smelled of piss and beer, was the start of the entire modern era of the NBA on Canal +. As for the most beautiful game I have commented on, it is the 2008 Olympic final between the Spain of the Gasol brothers and Team USA with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. We had two Dream Teams at the top of their game, with a dazzling level of play. Live, I said that it was the most beautiful match in the history of this sport.
Where does your special bond with Michael Jordan come from?
Each time he came to France, with promotional tours, Nike took me on as consultant-translator-guide-interviewer, and even animator in 1990 in the small room Géo-André (Paris XVI), where Jordan had done 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 pat on the shoulder, as if I was part of his close entourage. Having been close to stars like Shaquille O’Neal and him is clearly not given to everyone.
What was your relationship with French players throughout your career?
These are the closest relationships I’ve had, with each generation of players in the France team, whether it’s Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert who went on to make brilliant careers in the NBA. I discovered them in the youth teams, like also the Pietrus brothers in Pau for example. At the time, I felt like their big brother, and today like their grandfather (smile). It’s almost a filial relationship with them, and they have always sent me a lot of friendship and respect.
Have you sometimes had the impression of helping to launch the careers of young French people through glowing comments?
I hope I have boosted the career of each of them. At the moment, we are mainly talking about Victor Wembanyama that I saw grow up, because I played with his father in a championship of old in Ile de France. It’s probably the biggest prospect and talent in the history of world basketball and I have accompanied him since he was 15 years old. There are probably some players that I boosted more than others, but I felt it was my job to always be positive. If it happened to me to criticize players, I wanted it to be fair and objective, and not to clash or create negative buzz. I didn’t want to push too hard a player who was doing a bad performance because I myself was 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 school.
How did you precisely experience this tense explanation on the set of Canal + with Tony Parker, who was angry with you for your comments during the Eurobasket 2007?
This clash with Tony Parker was an incident along the way. He had just been NBA champion and MVP of the final in 2007. He was therefore at the height of his glory, but unfortunately, the French team crashed in the wake of the European championship in Spain. For me, the Blues did not take the classification games seriously [contre la Croatie et la Slovénie], who had a colossal stake in view of the Beijing Olympics. From the warm-up, I felt that because the players were having a dunk contest. At halftime, I came down from my journalist desk to shout 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 was 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 had been upset and Tony wanted to defend his teammates. He attacked me a bit on the spot, but I was fulfilling my role as an objective journalist, I wasn’t there to brush his shoes. There was a period of cold between us, then we patched things up.
Have you ever had surprising offers that were outside the scope of your career as a journalist for Canal +?
Yes, I dubbed films, I did advertising voiceovers, and I had a lot of opportunities thanks to Canal +. As soon as a project touched on American sport, they came to get me. On the basketball side, club presidents and coaches often consulted me. As I was somewhat aware of everything, I was asked for my opinion. David Stern also called on me when he came to Europe: I was his consultant for the European market for NBA business. I was also offered to become an agent. But I never did because I thought there was a conflict of interest with my job as a journalist. I’ve been a club manager, player, coach, communications director at PSG Racing, I’ve written seven books, so I’ve never been confined to the role of match commentator. I was even extremely surprised to receive in October the highest honor of the French Basketball Federation (FFBB).