In 1991, George Eddy sat in The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., ready to broadcast Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls — in French.
“I'm doing this game, Michael (Jordan) vs. Magic (Johnson), on French TV live,” Eddy recalled. “A dream come true for me, personally. And a chance, also, to help this whole French viewing audience sort of discover something that, at the time, was sort of extraplanetary.”
At the time, France, Mexico and Italy were the only international countries to broadcast the NBA Finals. But as professional basketball has exploded internationally, so has its coverage around the globe, as the games between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat will be broadcast live in 215 countries and territories in 47 languages.
How it goes down
A peek inside the NBA Entertainment live truck — which features more than 100 monitors and about 40 crew members — gives an inside look at what it takes to broadcast the game to the world.
Its motto? “Keeping the world happy, one country at a time, one game at a time.”
It starts with the base ABC broadcast, which makes up 90 percent of each international show. But the crew must fill up timeouts and commercial breaks with additional content, since most of the network's promos and advertisements do not make sense outside of the U.S.
“What we're trying to do is act like an HBO,” said Tim Kane, NBA Entertainment's senior director of broadcasting and international production. “We're always on the air. We don't go away to commercial.
“So during the timeouts, we'll run features, we'll look to show the entertainment on the court. It's a mix of highlights, features and really trying to give every broadcaster in the 215 countries, end to end, a continuous show.”
Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, also allow more than 278 million fans around the world to follow and immediately respond to the NBA Finals.
The international flavor of the NBA Finals — which includes more than 270 media members from 34 countries on-site in Oklahoma City and Miami — was evident after Game 1. Serge Ibaka, who is from the Republic of Congo and represents Spain in international competition, answered more than 30 percent of his postgame interview questions in a language other than English.
And it's yet another way the Thunder's success allows Oklahoma City to gain worldwide exposure.
Kane said CCTV, China's television partner with the NBA, expects this to be the most-watched NBA Finals in the country's history because of the popularity of the matchup between the Thunder's young, exciting team and the global icon that is LeBron James.
“The viewers are brilliant,” Kane said. “They know what they're watching. They demand the broadcasters (to be) the best. They've learned the game. They've embraced the game. They love the game. And they really want to feel like they're sitting courtside.”
Eddy, who grew up in Orlando, Fla., but had never visited Oklahoma City until this week, said his viewers grasp the rowdy environment inside Chesapeake Energy Arena and the small-town vibe Oklahoma City provides in contrast to Miami's big market.
How it went global
Eddy, who broadcasts for Canal+France, has seen firsthand the way international fans have learned about basketball.
He served as a translator and guide for David Stern when he first became commissioner in the late 1980s and was first trying to expand the game overseas. Eddy points to the 1992 Dream Team, Michael Jordan's dominance in the 1990s, and more international players coming to the NBA as the main driving forces behind the game's increased popularity outside of the U.S.
“We had to sort of help them discover all this,” Eddy said. “And now, I think in France, there's probably as many NBA experts as there would be in America. It's not as popular as soccer … but the fans of the NBA in France are very intense about it.”
As expected, Eddy's viewers are naturally drawn to the Spurs' Tony Parker, who is a native of France. But many are also fans of Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha because they speak French.
After preparing for his broadcast in the press box, Eddy heads down to the court for his pregame intro. Once there, he enters a line of international broadcasters who quickly hit the same mark under the basket, talk for a few minutes in their native languages and file out to make room for the next commentators.
Eddy's pregame guest is Bruce Bowen, the former NBA player who is now an ESPN analyst. Minutes after, viewers around the world will officially be brought inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It's grown with the communications and Internet boom,” Eddy said. “The evolution is incredible.”