Watching basketball and chronicling its characters, history and results are twin passions for Emmet Ryan, editor of BallinEurope.com.
The Irishman is a gifted observer. He also knows how to turn a phrase and to tell the larger tales of basketball across The Continent that resonate with readers (even those who know very little about the rivalries and history of the sports in Ireland and Italy, Germany and Greece and dozens of other nations in Europe).
In his new book, “I Like It Loud,” which was self-published in October, Ryan explores the contemporary basketball scene across Europe. He compresses the narrative to a year’s time. In our busy, on-the-go lives, this might’ve been the best time frame to pursue this project.
I recently caught up with Ryan to discuss the book and the stories behind the stories. That interview is posted below.
Q&A about the book
When did the idea spring up to pursue a book about such a broad topic as European basketball? Was there an ah-ha moment that convinced you now was the time to do this? And if so, why?
I had been thinking about it for a while. I’ve written two other books in the past that were far more niche, about Gaelic football tactics, but with all the travel for basketball there was an urge to do something around those.
You wrote this on the website — “Back in Munich airport last November, with my luggage gone on a magical mystery tour without me, all I really wanted was to get my hide to Bamberg for a beer. I didn’t make it before closing time that night but it was over those few days where I went from ‘I may write a book’ to ‘I’m writing a book’ as the first six stops of the journey into European hoops were made those winter days.” — so, in essence, did just being out and about fired you up to combined the travels with what you were learning and experiencing?
Well that trip was mad. I was thinking of a book at that stage but was still undecided. My approach was to give it that trip to decide. By the time I left Spain to fly to Germany I knew I was going to do it so that’s when I started working out the broader story I wanted to tell.
Through your reporting and dispatches on big events throughout Europe and the smaller local tournaments you’ve witnessed and chronicled in Ireland, is the book essentially a long-form extension of everything you’ve seen and experienced, but condensed to a one-year period?
A bit of both. There are a couple of chapters explaining some of the madder stuff, like the bizarre history of all the continental competitions in Europe. I try to use the trips to also tell stories related to them not from those specific trips.
“There are a couple of chapters explaining some of the madder stuff, like the bizarre history of all the continental competitions in Europe. I try to use the trips to also tell stories related to them not from those specific trips.”
Influences and inspiration
Are there other year-in-sports books, especially about basketball that have served as inspiration to you or proven to be helpful guides in figuring out how to do this — and also what not to do? Care to mention a few of ’em?
It’s odd but most of my inspiration comes from books on sports I don’t write about. There’s Jonathan Wilson, who has written some amazing soccer books, and a little known one called ‘Before a Fall’ by Lee Daly, it’s a history of Pride Fighting Championships. I look at the likes of those and think about the basketball stories I can tell.
From start to finish, how and when did you do the writing that fills the book’s pages? Was it a daily task you diligently filled for _ months? Was it a couple times a week that you carve out a chunk of hours to write? Done at home? At a secluded table at a quiet cafe or other place away from home or office? Various places?
It was written in so many places. Mostly in Dublin but parts on travels in the U.S. and Europe too. It was basically about getting somewhere I could sit down and write. Including research, it was about a year in work, and many cafés were used. I even gave one near my house a shout out.
Was the finished product originally 242 pages? Or was it something closer to 450? And was there a laborious process of leaving stuff out that you had previously hoped to get in the book?
I cut a lot but I couldn’t put a number on it. There were loads of stories I felt I could only half tell in this book so they all got cut but I will return to them. Early on it was hard to decide what to cut but once I was in the groove I could spot things where I knew I could do a better job later.
What do you hope people come away with after reading the book? Would you say that prompting laughter and shock could occur quite often along with being informed about various aspects of European basketball?
Definitely laughter and shock. I hope they also get to enjoy the different shapes and sizes in the sport here. Hoops in Ireland is so different to Germany but they each have interesting links with their communities.
Is there a story or two within the book that you think will be considered favorites by a large number of readers? Can you elaborate on this?
I mean the many failures of CSKA Moscow will resonate with a lot of people, there’s also the chapter about Belfast which takes in a lot of the character of Northern Ireland that I don’t want to spoil but I think will stand out to a lot of people.
Approximately, how many basketball players and coaches were interviewed and quoted in the book? Are there a few (and you can name names) who were born to be showcased in a book based on their unique characters, way with words, life journeys, etc.? And who was the most famous person written about in the book?
It’s weird but it’s not quote heavy. I tried to use quotes given publicly or in press conferences, then putting them in context with the bigger stories. I know it’s unusual but I thought that was a better way to tell the stories.
Related to that point, who are three irreplaceable characters in the book? And what made them absolutely essential to the overall narrative?
Two who are brief but irreplaceable: Mikko the Finnish fan in Bilbao and Sega the cameraman in Antwerp. Of the players, probably Kyle Hines.
In cities and towns, before and after games, visits to local pubs and conversations with locals formed a valuable part of your learning about local and regional basketball culture, isn’t that right?
And then some. You can learn a lot about a way a team plays watching on TV or online but it’s going to those towns and cities, meeting the characters around it, and having a few beers, that tells you why it matters. I hope I share some of that in the book.
In your words, what is unique and original about this book?
Well there just aren’t many books about the sport here in English. I think the differences in the sport across Europe, and I only covered a few countries here, will stun people. Plus, I doubt many basketball books mention pubs this much.
The goal was to write something people with a good knowledge of hoops here and none of the sport at all would enjoy. I hope I have pulled that off, it should definitely be a fun read.