Rickey Paulding played in Oldenburg for 15 years, now he is retiring. As a farewell, the fans give the basketball player a unique choreography, and the club celebrates the greatest player in its history. He tells why he is going to miss Germany.
It is often the small, supposedly insignificant moments that describe excellent personalities better than big scenes in the spotlight ever could. It’s the same with Rickey Paulding. “I’ll be back,” the 39-year-old shouts to the children and young people eagerly waiting in the fan block to get an autograph and take a souvenir photo. And of course, the basketball pro returns from the team’s locker room a few minutes later to fulfill the last wishes of this unique, emotionally charged evening.
While the field around him is already being dismantled, Paulding patiently signs with shirts and smiles kindly at countless cell phone cameras. As they say in Oldenburg, he chats a bit with those who have long since simply called the American Rickey. They renamed the city “Pauldingburg” in his honor, which stands on an oversized graffiti right next to the arena. For his last home game, this one is sold out for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. 6,000 people have sat down to say a fitting goodbye to the most influential basketball player in the club’s history.
“The people,” Paulding says in an interview with ntv.de, he will miss the most when he leaves Oldenburg for the first time in 15 years without returning to prepare for the new season. What sounds like a clichéd farewell is, in Paulding’s case, a credible declaration of love for his adoptive country and the people who live there. The 1.96 meter high winger, which radiates remarkable tranquility and a deep inner tranquility, suits the 170,000 inhabitants city of Lower Saxony. In September 2019, he said in an interview with ntv.de that his children would be able to live more freely in Germany than in the United States. He and his wife Kara feel comfortable in Oldenburg, their sons Tre and Sidney and daughter Marleigh grew up there.
Grandson spontaneously steps in as a translator
Together with Paulding’s mother Virginia and his brother Ryan, who has come especially to the apartment, the five stand on the floor after the match and look up at the huge screens above the center circle. Featured videos commemorate the great moments of the Paulding era. With him as leader, the Oldenburgers won the two major titles in their club history, the 2009 and 2015 trophy championships, each in their own hall. Gifts, greetings, Rickey Paulding chants, applause of several minutes follow.
Paulding himself gives a short speech he has prepared for this moment. He prefers to convince with accomplishments rather than with big words. “I was a little nervous beforehand,” he says afterwards, because he did not know, “what emotions it would trigger in me.” But he also knows that it’s part of an evening for someone to say a few words to the audience that everyone has come for.
Paulding thanks his family for being able to live out his dream of becoming a professional basketball player, the club for their trust over the years, the fans for their support and his mother for having raised him alone in his father’s absence. She is repeatedly moved to tears, also over the appreciative words, for example from longtime spokesman Reinhard “Pepe” Nast, whom her granddaughter Tre simultaneously translates into English. Nast can not help but shout a triple “Rickey! Paulding!” fading, as it usually sounds after successful three-point throws.
“Father time” is undefeated
“I could not have dreamed of a nicer time,” Paulding says afterwards to ntv.de, while the hall is slowly being emptied. The 39-year-old, who always seems a little uncomfortable with so much attention, seems content. It’s the right time to stop. His characteristic smile flashes again and again, it is an engaging, arousing smile because it is friendly and welcoming. “I’m glad to be able to experience something like that,” he sums up the evening, but also “glad it’s over.”
Paulding seems absolutely pleased with his decision to retire after 18 years as a professional basketball player. In the club, the atmosphere is longing in the light of the drastic change, but even there the calm of Oldenburg is not to be mistaken: At some point, even legends have to say goodbye – and then it’s better now, while he can still keep up, than as it becomes painfully obvious that “father time,” as the declining ability to perform with increasing age is often referred to in the United States, eventually catches everyone.
But Paulding played 30 minutes in his last home game, scoring 18 points, completing two crashing dunks and also making sure with four steals that Oldenburg clearly and safely won over Würzburg with 113: 87. With 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, Michal Michalak sets up a triple-double, which is extremely rare in the Bundesliga, but which is somewhat lost in the celebration in honor of number 23.
Fan club chairman sees great challenge
These celebrations experience their first climax even before the tip, where the 6,000 fans in the arena show the “greatest choreography that has ever existed in basketball Germany”. This is how the Thunderstorm Oldenburg fan club writes, whose name is derived from the club’s nickname (“Thunderbirds”) on the flyer, which is available in all seats. On 122 posters, its members have immortalized all 117 teammates and the five coaches that Paulding has experienced in 584 matches for Oldenburg, on a banner more than 30 meters long along the main grandstand, reads: “15 years of loyalty, three-pointers, dunks & heart and soul – thank you Rickey! “
“For most of us,” Thunderstorm chairman Jannik Wiggers-von Staa said in an interview with ntv.de, “they only know the baskets of Rickey.” This evening he is proudly wearing the jersey that Paulding wore in his first season in Oldenburg and which he gave him afterwards. “To me, he’s just the face of the baskets,” said Wiggers-von Staa, who many basketball fans believe far beyond Oldenburg. “Therefore, it will be a very big task for the club, for us as a fan club, to ensure that this Oldenburg-Pauldingburg idea is carried forward.”
Solving this task is a challenge. On the one hand, EWE Baskets must change, sportingly, the season in the relegation battle was a complete mess. After only two victories from the first 13 Bundesliga matches, coach Mladen Drijencic had to leave in January, under his successor Ingo Freyer at least managed to stay up in the league. In return, there should be more of Paulding than the graffiti next to the arena and the jersey with number 23, which was pulled under the hall ceiling at the official farewell game in early June and will no longer be handed out in the future. .
More BBL points than followers
Then the five Pauldingers finally return to the United States. “We’re closer to family,” Rickey says, “it’s important to us. But they will not leave Oldenburg, visits have already been announced, the children have also made many friends over the years, and it also seems conceivable for the 39-year-old to take on a role in the curves that have not yet been defined. The club would be ill-advised not to offer at least one feature to the American, which is valued and popular throughout the league.
It’s almost a pity that Paulding’s fame hardly extends beyond German basketball. But he’s probably fine with that, because there have probably been lots of offers from bigger clubs since he moved to Oldenburg. The sense of security in Huntestadt, where Paulding can sometimes stroll through the city center with his family largely unaffected, was apparently greater than the temptation of these offers.
At the end of this extraordinary night, it might be one of the reasons Paulding takes some time for his fans. On his Instagram account, which is followed by about as many people (7886) as he has BBL points (7959), he scrolls through the countless photos he has been tagged on over the past few hours, and they messages he received on the occasion of his last home game. And responds with small hearts, which are common there as a “like” reaction. As humble and polite as Rickey Paulding is.