Roy Birch is a TV commentator on Eurosport. He has covered over 200 online games since the early 90’s. He also has some serious coaching experience having coached Great Britain women national team in the 80’s. Read more to find what he had to say when talking to us.
First of all, please introduce yourself to the visitors of TalkBasket.
I started playing aged 10, (51 years ago), because I saw the Globetrotters on TV (Black & White!), and made a hoop from an old pram and stuck it on my mother’s washing line post. I think it was the first outdoor hoop in England. I became obsessed with shooting, keeping records of the 1000 shots a day that I took. My mother would chastise me for the noise in the back garden.
I played at school, in a very small gym, and then at college. I went to the USA with a touring student team in 1969. Whilst at college, I coached the women’s team, and made (and lost) the National Final. Not bad with only one true basketball player ( my future wife!) all the others were netball players. A strange derivative of basketball played by females in the UK. After college, I coached a women’s club team, and won the National Cup 8 times and the National League 3 times. I stopped playing because I had a detached retina due to a rebound situation (I was fouled!!). I became assistant coach to the England women in 1978, and Head Coach in 1980. I coached Great Britain women at the Pre-Olympics in Bulgaria in 1980 and Cuba in 84. My club side made the Ronchetti Cup quarter Finals. After that, I got into the politics of English basketball, as a Board member until 2004. I run a recreational league at my local sports centre, and have run a summer camp for 20 years.
How come you are a basketball commentator in a country crazy about football, rugby and cricket? What was the main factor that brought you to basketball?
See above … fate, I think. All of my friends were footballers, but I preferred basketball!
When did you start your career as a commentator? Why did you choose this job?
I wrote to the BBC because I thought I could do better than the guys they had, and they invited me to a trial. When Eurosport started up at the same time as Sky, I was their stats man and commentator for women’s basketball. My daytime job is a teacher of Physical Education, but nowadays, I only do a few hours a week, because Eurosport 2 is now doing a lot of basketball!
When Eurosport moved to Paris in 1990, I thought that was the end of it, but I got a phone call from Paris, and it all started up again. I used to commute to Paris AND teach Physical Education, but it all got too much, so I chose the TV work.
Were there any funny moments that you remember when working on TV?
In our first season of ULEB Cup, we couldn’t get to the most distant games, so we did some by satellite. The first one was with Martin Henlan, and we were supposed to be doing Dynamo Moscow; as soon as the pictures came through, I looked for Lazaros Papadopolous, in white, as a starting point, but the teams were in Yellow and Purple, and all the graphics were in Russian. I knew we had the wrong game, but we hadn’t got a clue which game we had. I got on the phone to Paris to tell them. And they eventually got the right game over the satellite but Martin and I had to waffle on for 15 minutes (it was Unics Kazan). That was hard work, and it was Martin’s first game!
What was the most memorable basketball match for you? Why?
I also work for Canal France International, and memorable games include the WC Final of 2002, OT Argentina v Serbia, and the WC semi of 2006, USA v Greece, the Dream team games of 1992, and the 2 Uleb Finals from the Spirodome. Chicage in triple OT. Sadly, we missed the 5 x OT Alba Berlin v Bosna. Too many great games to single out just one!
Let’s talk about Eurosport. We can see more basketball being shown there in recent years starting with youth competitions and ending with Euroleague Basketball Show. Are you happy with progress?
How much interest do the ULEB Cup games generate?
A great deal all over Europe, but not much in the UK.
Recently Eurosport signed an agreement to show Olympiakos’ games in the Greek league. How many people watch their games?
No idea yet, but we’re doing a few more games soon…
David Stern expressed the plans of potential NBA expansion to Europe including London. What is your opinion about this?
At the moment, I’m sceptical . there’s no market for basketball in the UK. I did the Boston v Minnesota game, live, courtside, for Five US, and 90% of the crowd of 18000 didn’t undestand what the game was about. But I’m sure that the NBA would work hard on increasing the awareness. But it would take a long, long time.
Guildford Heat made a debut in the ULEB Cup this season and finished bottom of the Group A with a 0-10 record. Do you think it was a positive move to play in Europe this year?
My collegue Micky Bett knows the Guildford people very well, and they are disappointed that they didn’t achieve more. I think that they were a little naive in entering the Uleb, and they probably expected tv coverage.
Great Britain national team qualified for the Division A last year. In September 2008 they will play for a place in Eurobasket 2009. How do you rate their chances?
It really dependes upon who Coach Finch can recruit. Luol Deng is a great player, but he’ll be a marked man, and someone else has got to step up. Personally, I’d like to see Dan Clark in the team. He’s a graduate of my summer camp, and he won a trip to Syracuse from that a few years ago. He’s young, but has enormous potential!
What needs to be done in order to generate the interest in basketball in Great Britain? Do you see an example that should be followed?
We need a culture transplant! GB has been described as a “one sport nation” … football! When I talk to old school friends, some actually think of basketball as “men’s netball”, or a game that’s only played by 7-foot tall Americans. But there are some good things happening. Mark Clark’s Academy, for instance. There are some good players developing and, with any luck (and a lot of hard work!), the 2012 Olympic Games will stimulate British basketball!
Thank you for the interview Roy. We wish you many more great games.