Benoît Labis presents his book The Great History of the NBA
Where did your passion for basketball come from?
During my university studies, I became very interested in the English language and American culture, exploring a little bit of all subjects. Around 2010, I discovered “30 for 30”, a series of documentaries produced by the sports channel ESPN, some episodes of which were shown on French channels in a subtitled version. Several of them were on the subject of basketball. Upon further research, I realized how exciting this sport is; everything I saw or read about the NBA after that only made me more attractive.
Can you introduce us to your book The Great History of the NBA?
The great history of the NBA goes back in detail to every season of the NBA – the North American basketball championship – from its beginnings to the present day. Each season is depicted in the form of a short story that contains portraits, but also unpublished anecdotes taken from documentaries, books and articles by specialized American journalists. The special feature of this book is that it is intended for connoisseurs, but also for the general public: the functioning of the NBA league, some specific terms, emphasis, reasons for the success of individual players; everything is explained there. I wanted to approach things in the most entertaining way possible, avoiding being too annoying with a succession of names, results and statistics that would not make sense to the uninitiated reader.
Why did you want to write a book about the NBA and how it has evolved over the decades?
In the course of my research, I realized that much of the information I could read or see on the United States side was ignored in France. Here I wanted to bring them together in a book. But I also wanted to give an objective look at the history of the NBA, based on concrete facts and taking into account all the changes that have occurred over time. Very often, the way players are perceived by spectators or the media does not correspond to reality; some are unfairly belittled, and others are glorified for the wrong reasons. The same goes for some teams. As for the evolution of the NBA, I think we can say that it has come a long way in its seventy-five years of existence. Consider that in the beginning the players were not professionals; they had second jobs in the off-season because the wages were derisive and the supervision more than rudimentary, not to mention restrictions on travel or military service. Today, even the lowest-ranked players earn millions a year, and the NBA provides everyone with the best possible working conditions.
Although the beginnings were difficult, what was the trigger to democratize the championship in the world?
The trigger on a global level was probably the adventure of the “Dream Team” in the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. It was there that the world really discovered what the NBA was. The level of American basketball players was exceptional: they were several years ahead, and the general interest in the American league only grew from that moment. Many young Europeans were inspired by the “Dream Team”; Tony Parker, who was torn between football and basketball in his youth, said he chose basketball after watching the USA play in 1992. Twenty years after the Barcelona Games, seventy-eight foreign players were present in the NBA, whereas there had never been more than a handful before. And then, of course, we can’t ignore the influence of Michael Jordan. His performances and his charisma made him an international icon. Everyone was in awe of him and wanted to follow his exploits, even across the Atlantic.
How did you document yourself to write your book?
As I said before, I was greatly inspired by books and articles by renowned American journalists. I made sure to thank most of them in my book. In addition, I went to draw information from documentaries, magazines and several biographies of players and actors in the NBA world.
Did any players particularly stand out during the championship?
Many players have marked the NBA league in their own way. There are too many to list, but if I had to name just a few, I would name Bill Russell, the greatest winner in the history of the NBA and a role model for all African-American basketball players; Magic Johnson and Larry Bird who practically saved the NBA at a time when things were going extremely bad, and especially Michael Jordan who needs no introduction. And of course, you can’t miss LeBron James, who is probably the best basketball player of the twenty-first century.
How have NBA rules changed over time?
The most important rule was the establishment of the twenty-four second possession rule in the mid-1950s, to which I devoted an entire chapter in my book. Without this rule, the NBA would no longer be used because the game was distasteful. Then there were many important events; the league has always had enough intelligence to adapt to the times and not be afraid of innovation. He limited the influence of bigger and stronger players to avoid too much dominance on their part; she added a three-point line to give value to the back; in the 2000s, when the pace slowed too much and defenses took precedence over offense, it changed the rules to allow players to attack the basket and rebound faster. Today, players are more and more skilled in shooting and matches end with bigger and bigger scores; maybe it’s time to go back to stricter rules in defense. Have…
Do you have a favorite NBA team?
I have a soft spot for the Boston Celtics because of their philosophy of play and their history. But I’m actually pretty neutral. I want the best team to win.
In your opinion, what influence does the NBA have on basketball (fans or players) in our region?
French basketball is of very high quality, like European basketball. But in sports, everyone wants to see the best at work. And the level of the NBA league is much higher than other championships. For every rising young basketball player, the NBA represents excellence, the ultimate dream. It’s inevitable that all basketball fans in Europe or elsewhere will eventually take an interest in it and discuss it.
Can you tell us an anecdote from the championship?
There are so many amazing anecdotes about the championship that it is impossible for me to single out one in particular! I collected most of them in my book. I still want to give you a quote whose origin I forget, but which sums up well what people thought of Michael Jordan at the time he was breaking up the NBA: “The problem with Michael Jordan is that he plays basketball better than anyone else in the world. »
Are signings planned in bookstores or at fairs?
There is nothing planned at the moment, but anything is possible.
Would you like to tell us a few words about your NBA Book blog?
I created blog in 2016, to provide the French public with information from articles, books and documentaries in English dedicated to the NBA. It was this blog that later inspired me to write my book. The time I’ve spent on the latter has kept me from any recent updates, but I’ll no doubt return to it when I find new topics to cover.
What do you want to say at the end?
I would like to warmly thank Éditions Solar for agreeing to publish my book. I had no particular ambitions when I wrote it, and I was really delighted with their appreciation of my work! If you want to take on any writing project, don’t hesitate to try, even if it takes time, patience, and a lot of rigor.
Thanks to Benoît Labis for answering our interview!