The NBA is a fairly big attraction, in France, a nation which also has produced the greatest number of foreign players in the league, about a dozen.
The New York Times today has drawn a link between a Franco-American wannabe baller — who did heavily accented commentary for French television for much of two decades — and the sport’s popularity here.
As I read the piece, it finally dawned on me where George Eddy may have drawn his inspiration:
And that would be Chick Hearn, the voice of the Los Angeles Lakers for 50 years, from March 1961 to a point near the middle of the 2001-02 season.
Eddy, The Times tells us, is known for inventing expressions, in American-accented French, that made the game more fun to listen to, or watch, and helped spark the comparatively early French enthusiasm for a game (from the mid-1980s forward) invented by a Canadian and embraced by generations of Yanks.
Making the game better with “fun phrases” is what Hearn had done in Los Angeles with the Lakers, where he invented many descriptors of the game still in use — starting with the expression “slam dunk”.
Eddy, who worked nearly three decades covering basketball and announcing it for France’s Canal Plus cable station, said things like “Oh la la! Mettez vos casques!” when a player missed a shot badly. Translated, it means “Oh, my, put on your helmets.”
He also came to describe dunks with words like “ka-boom!”
According to The Times, he also was key for still active French announcers using North American words rather than their French equivalents, such as: “un dunk” instead of “un smash,” “un block” instead of “un contre,” “un alley-oop” instead of “une passe lobee.”
Well and good, and thank you, Monsieur Eddy, for helping popularize the game in France.
But whatever he has done is overwhelmed by all the Chick Hearn-isms that still describe the game, from “air ball” to “garbage time”.
(If you think that is overly dramatic … have a look at the massive list of Chickisms on the Chick Hearn wiki page. And note that he died in 2002 at the age of 85; hard to imagine he’s been gone that long or that most of a generation has come of age without hearing Chick put a “game in the refrigerator”, where “the door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard and the Jell-O’s jiggling.”
Eddy, the son of an American father and French mother, is out of the announcing business, since Canal Plus lost the rights to NBA games, but he keeps his hand in the game he played 11 seasons professionally, back in France.
The French also are warming up to the NFL, and often use English football expressions rather than their French equivalent. Among them: A “peek seeks” (an interception returned for a touchdown).
What George Eddy has done … impressive.
What Chich Hearn did for basketball … invaluable.
My, I miss him.