The Dish: Thierry Henry
Posted Jun 19 2001 12:00AM
French soccer star talks hoops, Iverson and the price of fame
French soccer star Thierry Henry is one of the top 'footballers' in all of Europe. The esteemed striker, who plays for the top-flight British club Arsenal, finished third in scoring in the English premier league for the 2000-01 season. Playing for his native France, Henry also won the two biggest tropies in all of soccer -- the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Cup. Henry was in Philadelphia (he's a huge Iverson fan) during NBA Finals 2001, helping out with French TV coverage of this year's Lakers-Sixers series. NBA.com caught up with the international star during his stay in the states and asked him a few questions about basketball, soccer, music, and the price of fame.
How is it being at this year's Finals?
It's like a dream come true. It's not often that you get to see the NBA Finals.
I really, really, really like Iverson, so I support the Sixers. But if Iverson switched teams, I would follow the team he is with.
How long have you been a fan of Iverson?
Since his rookie year. In the beginning some people were saying he's a 'bad boy,' but since he began playing well, everyone forgot what was said about him. Plus, he is an amazing player. I don't want to say he brought his team to the Finals by himself, but when you have to score 52 or 54 points for your team to win, to me that does kind of mean you brought your team to the Finals. He's so small, yet he takes all of the responsibility of the team.
Have you had a chance to meet him?
No, I was in the locker room after Game 3, and he was a bit moody. I know how he was feeling, because I've played some great games, and I know when you lose a really important game you don't want to talk to anybody, even your family. So I left him alone.
Do you think Iverson would be a good soccer player?
To be a soccer player, you have to play from an early age. But the thing with (Iverson) is that he has such a hunger and a rage when he's playing sports that I think no matter if he was playing American football or soccer or baseball, he would have been great, because he has that hunger. That hunger from the street. That's what I like with him. Because you can see it.
Is there anything similar with your background?
I grew up in a suburb of Paris that was not that nice. Because of that, I'm a great fan of people who make something out of nothing. I had great parents who taught me which way to go, and I had soccer, so I wasn't interested in dealing or anything like that.
When you are a key player on a team, everyone expects you to do something. And even if you score 100 points, but don't hit the basket to win it, you feel like you let your team down. I can see this on Iverson's face when he loses. It's the same in soccer, especially when you play striker and you have a chance to score but don't, and your team loses. You feel like the whole thing is on you. But Iverson keeps bouncing back. That's what I like about him.
I read an interview with Iverson, and in it he said he doesn't care about what others think, just what his friends and family think. At the end of the day the most important thing is what he does in the Sixers jersey. He scores 30 points, and that's the only thing the crowd came to see. The best thing about him is that he hasn't changed, he's stayed the way he was and the way he grew up.
How does basketball compare to soccer?
I love the game (basketball) because it is fast. I don't really like baseball. I find it boring, like cricket. I like American football sometimes, but not all the time. Basketball is a speed game. I love the moves, and I like the jumping and movement and emotion.
How do basketball crowds compare to soccer crowds?
In soccer, the fans are crazy right from the start, but in basketball, the game has to go for a while before the excitement really builds. In basketball, you are in an arena, and it's a much more controlled, closed environment, where you are so close it feels as though you could even smell the sweat of the players. In soccer stadiums, it's more crowded, and there's more noise. But that might just be in England. I've played soccer everywhere, but in England they are the loudest.
Have you played much basketball?
I have the capacity, but I'm not that great. I haven't played enough. I can go into the paint, but I don't have a good shot. I can jump high, though.
Can you dunk?
I can dunk if I'm able to hold the ball. I have big hands, but I still have trouble holding the ball. The ball leaves my hand when I get up there. I was at Lakers practice, and I saw a little boy, 13 years old, and he was able to (palm) the ball, no problem. It must be something you learn in America, like we learn to juggle the soccer ball in Europe.
Are soccer players more fit than basketball players?
I don't know. We don't do the same type of running. Sometimes I wish that we could substitute in football like you do in basketball, where you can sit on the bench for five minutes in the middle of a game. You can't do that in football. If you come out, you're done for the game. You have to run, run, run, run, run, run ... then halftime ... then run, run, run again. It's not that easy, I can tell you that. And in basketball, they're using their elbows and upper body and everything. You get that in soccer, but not as much.
Do you lift weights?
I don't like it. When we must do it as a team, I do it. But I think it makes me slower. I like to keep my natural build.
(Gascoigne) was great on the pitch, and great off the pitch, but not in a 'good' way. But the thing is, he was doing his job. People would say he wasn't a good example, but he still played as well as anyone. That's what he wanted to do, so you have to respect that. It's his life.
Have you seen any basketball shots this year that were as impressive as your goal against Man U at Highbury?
I saw some things that Vince Carter did this season that were amazing. I think everyone will remember the dunk where Carter went over the (7-2) French guy at the Olympics. He just leapfrogged him. And this guy was standing up. It's impossible. Unbelieveable.
Is there a soccer equivalent to a slam-dunk?
You dunk quite often in basketball. Maybe a bicycle kick in soccer? But you don't do it too often, maybe once or twice a year. Maybe just a nice dribbling move to beat a defender.
Do you enjoy being in the U.S. because you don't have to deal with fans?
I don't mind dealing with fans (in Europe), but it is more relaxing here (in the U.S.) A few fans have approached me here, but for the most part I'm left alone. When you go on holiday, you want to chill out, and get away from what you have to do all the time. It's not that I want to get away from the fans, but to eat outside and not have someone approach you every two minutes is nice. When I'm in Europe, I live football, talk about football, and can't do anything else. I also like to vacation with my family in the West Indies. They know me there, but they leave me alone after two or three days.
If you had to shoot free throws by kicking the ball, how many kicks would it take you to make one?
You'd have to get lucky. You have more control with your hand then your feet. If you don't prepare your feet correctly, you have no chance. That's the difficult thing about soccer. In basketball, if you shoot and someone touches you, it's a foul. But in soccer, they will always push and kick you before you shoot. That makes it very difficult.
So maybe you want more fouls in soccer?
No, because then it would be boring. That's what I like about England. They let you play. In Italy, they call too many fouls.
And maybe just for the good teams ...
Yeah, but it's the same as in basketball. I think the Lakers would get treated differently by the refs then, say, Cleveland, in the playoffs.
As a transfer student in California, Manchester City striker Paolo Wanchope once scored 47 points in a high-school basketball game. Evidently, he was recruited to play college hoops by some big schools. Do you know of any other soccer players who can play basketball?
Well, Paolo is quite tall, and he has long arms. And I think he even runs like a basketball player. I never talked to him about it, though, but I can see that. He's very thin and very tall.
Complete this sentence: 'If basketball is hip-hop, then soccer is ... '
It's hard to say. I really, really, really love hip-hop. In soccer, you have a lot of players who love hip-hop as well. But in soccer, they don't want to put forth a bad image, even if hip-hop isn't a bad image. If soccer and hip-hop became too closely associated, they would say 'It's not a good example for the younger fans.' In basketball, it's just how it is; all the rappers and players are friends. For me, I love hip-hop, but in Europe, they're always scared of these things.
What CD's are you listening to now?
A lot of rap. I really enjoy Wu-Tang Clan. Also, Dr. Dre, Snoop, Xzibit, all the crew of the Wu-Tang.
What about MC Solaar? Where is he?
Oh, he's still in France, but I'm not really into him. I like hardcore hip-hop.
What's your favorite Dre album?
The last one. He came back in the face of everyone. Before, the West coast was better, then the East coast came back with Wu-Tang Clan and Nas and Puff Daddy and Notorious B.I.G. But now the West coast is back. The 'Up In Smoke' tour -- Xzibit, Night Dog, Snoop, Dr. Dre, Eminem -- kind of showed this. It's a bit too much sometimes, but that's what you like about rap.
(ED'S NOTE: Henry never once said 'soccer' over the course of the interview, but used the European term 'football' instead. In the interest of differentiating between the U.S. and European versions of the game, however, all references to European football were changed to 'soccer.')