It was 7.00 am the day after. The day after what? The magical Rickey Paulding (196-SF-1982, college: Missouri) farewell game in Oldenburg that chronicled his amazing and legendary career with the EWE Baskets Oldenburg. I had to stay overnight in a suburb of Bremen about 75 kilometers away from Oldenburg, because all the hotels in Oldenburg were booked because of the German Harvest festival holiday named Pfingston. My family and I wanted to spend the Sunday, the day after in a beautiful amusement park with our son. I had only slept 5 hours, but wanted to get my running out of the way for the day. The weather was beautiful on Sunday morning, already 72 degrees with the sun already in full action and a soothing light breeze. When your jogging for an hour, I had a lot of time to reflect on the incredible Rickey Paulding evening and get new ideas for my farewell article. As I left the suburb called Oyten and was headed towards Bremen on my run, My mind momentarily shut off about Rickey Paulding and I focused on the word Oyten. Wait a minute, That name was familiar. A legendary name popped up from the German sports world Rudi Voeller.
So what do Voeller and Paulding have in common? Not much except that both are living legends. The man is a German football legend who helped win the 1990 World Cup with Germany and will always be remembered for scoring goals, getting spit on by Dutch player Frank Rijkaard and his legendary TV interview in 2003 with Waldemar Hartmann. Back in the 80’s German football magazine Kicker had a great campaign in that fans could send their autograph wishes to players. Every week there were new players featured on the last page of the magatine. As a kid who was a diehard autograph collector in the 80’s living in the States, I also collected German football players autographs when I was in Germany visiting relatives. I remember sending letters to countless players from the states then and getting responses and signed pictures sent back. The incredible thing was that as a novice kid, I didn’t check that you had to send a return envelope. I never did that, but it also would have been tough with American stamps. So many players sent me an autograph paying the stamp charge including then German national players like Harald Schumacher and Wolfgang Dremmler, but so did icon Rudi Voeller. I remember that I still had the envelope that Voeller had sent me. When I got home Sunday night from the weekend, I checked the envelope on the back, I read Oyten. Rudi Voeller must have lived in Oyten at the start of his legendary career in the early 80’s. To top off this look back and bring in some nostalgia, I have had dealings with his son Marco who is the manager of the Fraport Skyliners that I have covered for the last 15 years. I actually showed Marco the letter a few years ago.
So my thoughts about the Paulding evening were derailed for a moment. But for me this weekend belonged to Rickey Paulding not Rudi Voeller.
Let me back track 16 hours earlier. When you drive 4-5 hours to see Rickey Paulding why not combine it with another highlight off the court? Literally 2 hours before I entered the EWE Baskets big arena in Oldenburg, I was playing in the North Sea with my son Evan at Wilhelmshafen only 40 minutes away. The weather was great. So I went from the beach to the arena for the Rickey Paulding event. I don’t know how many times Rickey Paulding had to explain in the last 13 years after the magnificent 2009 BBL title why he never left Oldenburg, but it must have been very much. The normal bla bla of feeling comfortable there with my family is something he probably uttered just as much as the young folk of today taking a Lebron over Michael as the GOAT, but then again I could very well have understood that being so close to the water could also been a reason for the family to remain there. Leaving the very warm water wasn’t easy, but I finally wanted to taste the breathtaking atmosphere of the living room of Rickey Paulding. I arrived at 5.00 pm an hour before the festivities were to start and right away bumped into people I have met over the last 20 years. I remember visiting the small and big Oldenburg arena and actually was there for 12 games in that span calling games. I remember seeing Rickey Paulding for the first time in his first season in Oldenburg in the 2007-2008 season. It was actually only his second game in a EWE Baskets jersey against the Deutsche Bank Skyliners of Frankfurt. He contributed 12 points in a 76-65 win. I remember interviewing him after the game. Already there his million-dollar smile stood out and he had a full head of hair. I had other nice memories there seeing many great games including the playoff series against Frankfurt in 2009 as well having a very entertaining post game interview with Jacob Burtschi in 2013. Before I entered the big arena, I bumped into ex Player Dirk Madrich and Nigel Pruitt a guy I had recently covered in Frankfurt as well as some die hard fans that I had got to know over the years. Other people there that I recognized were head coach Mauro Parra, player Robert Drijencic son of ex Oldenburg coach Mladen, ex Oldenburg coach Sebastian Machowski, ex coach Ralph Held and legendary German referee Boris Schmidt. I also purchased a Rickey Paulding book that had been published about his 15 years in Oldenburg. Then I entered the big arena and was just overwhelmed. All fans in yellow wearing their yellow Rickey Paulding tee-shirts that had been produced for the evening.
They had added extra seating so as many fans could witness Paulding’s last farewell which would be 6,500 + fans. I wasn’t sitting long at my seat in the press area when a familiar colleague popped up with ex EWE Baskets press secretary Torben Rosenbohm who had been the press speaker for many years and had been there from the start of Paulding’s career in Oldenburg in 2007. I hadn’t seen him for ages. His place for the evening wasn’t next to me, but because there wasn’t an abundance of press people there which for me was not understandable, he decided to sit next to me and we talked all night about basketball. It was a lot of fun. He also was a part of the writing team for the Paulding book. It was very bad timing that the Oldenburg football team had moved up that afternoon to the third league so much of the buzz that day was around them. The local Oldenburg press had sent seemingly everyone to cover that event. There was hardly any press from outside Oldenburg there. I think I can almost say no one. That is absolutely a shame for me. When I heard some months ago that Rickey would be having a farewell game, I didn’t hesitate. I wanted to be there and also pay my last respects to the greatest American player to ever play in the easyCredit BBL.
The schedule for the evening was split up in two parts. The first part was the farewell game and the second part was the retirement ceremony and the hoisting of his #23 up to the rafters. Nobody knew beforehand which players would accompany Rickey on the court. It was supposed to be a surprise. The arena got dark and then all the players were introduced. One can only do so much in trying to get as many players from the last 15 years to be a part of the farewell game. The most notable ex players that came to support Rickey were ex top BBL players Julius Jenkins and Rasid Mahalbasic as well as ex BBL champion with Rickey Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje who was a legend at Georgetown and played a few years in the NBA. Other memorable players present were Marko Scekic, Milan Majstorovic, Robin Smeulders, Derrick Allen, Maxime De Zeeuw, Klemen Prepelic, Philipp Schwethelm and Jannik Freese. There were also other German players present like Harris Hujic, Kevin Smit, Dominik Lockhart, Jan Niklas Wimberg and Jacob Hollatz. It wasn’t a 40 minute game, but instead it was decided to have four five minute quarters. I had also gotten word that there would be a surprise player coming only for the fourth quarter. The teams were called team yellow and team blue. Paulding would play for both teams starting with team yellow for the first two quarters and then with team blue in the last two quarters.
If anyone had expected a hard fought battle, they would be in for a big surprise. This game was all for fun. Which is understandable. Defense was non-existent. You had some dudes in their 40’s who had played for years competing against guys in their early twenties who had just come off professional seasons. Rickey scored the first basket with an acrobatic lay in. The game was very slow and looked like a lazy Sunday at a rec center with middle aged guys huffing and puffing and the young bucks having mercy for their elders. Sniper Philipp Schwethelm who had played his first BBL game at age 16 with Cologne and never turned down a rim he didn’t like got hot nailing 4 three’s as he had never been so free in his basketball life with no defenders annoying him. The EWE Baskets ex big men Scekic and Majstorovic also got into the action scoring as they were a lot slower, but still had a good touch around the rim. Team Blue led 19-16 after one quarter. The second quarter remained tight with team blue having the slim lead for the most part, but team yellow fought back and led 35-33 at the break. In this quarter, ex Mr Ballerina as I called BBL legend Derrick Allen during his playing days because of his graceful, but sometimes hectic moves in the paint got many easy baskets. The only difference of now to then was that he made easy lay ups and had no slick ballerina moves because he didn’t have to out dance his aggressive defenders. 44 year old block master Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje also wanted a taste of the scoring cake and scored 3 buckets in a row. His last one was a hard one handed dunk on transition. Rickey was a dominant scorer in his career, but also a team player and even if his shots weren’t always falling, he allowed the others to shine on the scoring end. At the break Rickey had 9 points.
Even if there was no defense, this was not a high scoring game, but nobody cared as everyone wanted to see the ex Oldenburg players and everyone was having fun. In between shots, baskets and bricks, I had great conversations with Torben Rosenbohm about Rickey Paulding. I wanted to know from him if there was another reason besides the usual bla bla why a guy like him who could of played in the NBA and Euroleague never left Oldenburg. ‘I think what was really important for Rickey was that he was never afraid to be able to send out his kids in Oldenburg. He felt like his kids would be safe here. After he felt that, he never wanted to go. He just felt at home with his family in Oldenburg’, stressed Torben Rosenbohm. In the third quarter Rickey changed his jersey from yellow to blue, but yellow controlled the game. Ex Mr BBL triple double master Rasid Mahalbasic showed his versatility getting some baskets, but also offering up a few pretty alley-op bounce passes that were accepted with crushing dunks. Haris Hujic got going keeping team yellow at a distance with 7 points at 48-41. Mahalbasic served up another beautiful alley-op bounce pass to Rickey for the slam dunk. But team blue couldn’t make serious ground as Derrick Allen closed out the third quarter with back to back lay ins and the 52-43 team Yellow advantage. In the fourth quarter came the big surprise. Suddenly there wasn’t just one Paulding on the court, but two Pauldings. Rickey was joined by his 14 year old son Trey: He is supposed to be a gifted baseball player, but he showed he had some of that jump that his daddy had on the basketball court. In the first few minutes, it looked like Lebron or Jordan were on the court. Trey Paulding was a one man wrecking crew. Every play went to him. He scored 17 unanswered points. The first basket was a Paulding to Paulding combination as Rickey made the assist. After that Trey mostly made lay in’s, but also dropped a three pointer. After missing a dunk, he was helped by Mahalbasic to dunk the ball. Team yellow scored only one basket by Scekic. With 23 seconds to play team Yellow led 61-60 against Team Blue. It was the perfect scenario for a Paulding game winner, but that didn’t happen. Team blue called a time out, but that was it.The game simply ended. The two Paulding lost 61-60, but with 23 seconds to play, how fitting to end the game with the number that will never be worn again in Oldenburg.
Now there was a long break of about 30 minutes as the court was prepared for the farewell ceremony. A talented young orchestra was brought on the court. The young men and women were incredible. They played beautifully and two songs that really stuck out were the famous Africa by Toto and the legendary Bille Jean by Michael Jackson. Now the club had something very special prepared for Rickey as they had countless short interviews prepared with old teammates and opponents as well as 6 chapters showing the career of Rickey in Oldenburg on the video cube. My conversation with Rosenbohm was never dull. He gave me some fascinating insight about the Rickey years. I wanted to know from him when it will really sink in for fans that Rickey won’t be here anymore? ‘I think that first game next season will be very difficult. Nobody can predict how it will be without him. It will be a totally new dimension to what fans are used to. Nobody has ever experienced this before. It will be a new beginning. The club will need a new identity figure, but I think it will take a while before that happens. A situation with Rickey will never come again’, warned Torben Rosenbohm. Chapter one of the video tribute to Rickey was called Love and basketball. Here one learns how Rickey and his wife Kara met and how their love was born. A lot of chapter one has sweet back round information to their times at Missouri (NCAA) and you get great insight from their mothers. Chapter two is entitled from zero to hero. Here we learn about the first few years in Oldenburg how the start wasn’t easy, but with time he adjusted and was crowned in 2009 in only his second season with the BBL title. One guy that has to be commended is fellow BBL legend Alex King who also retired this season after 20 years. I covered him at the start of his career in Frankfurt and remember him being a young kid who had a lot to learn on and off the court. An ex coach there wasn’t the best influence and he left to go to Bonn and the rest is history. Who knows where he would be today had he not made that move. I haven’t seen a German player make such an incredible development on and off the court like Alex King. He won countless titles with Alba Berlin and FC Bayern Munich and became a solid German national player. Off the court he matured and became a part of the hand in hand basketball camp and is a guy you can have a conversation with. He has become such an eloquent speaker and in his interviews for Rickey showed incredible class and sportsmanship looking back at the 2009 finals series where Bonn was up 2-1 and chocked losing 3-2. In game 5. Every Oldenburg fan remembers the last seconds in game 5. Bonn up 70-67 with less than 20 seconds to go and Jason Gardner made a drive and lay in plus foul to tie the game at 70-70. Bonn had the game in their hands. But an Oldenburg free throw and Paulding steal sealed the club’s first title. Even in 2022 despite many titles, that loss didn’t sit well with King. King answered in his interview part with real grace and very fair. ‘I was so sure we would be champions’, said Alex King. Rosenbohm remembers that game 5 as if it was yesterday. ‘Everybody could rely on Rickey. When he got hot, he felt so free. Je Kel Foster was so important that season. He was that third element that had been missing with Rickey and Jason Gardner. With Foster there, Rickey had total freedom, but he also knew that he didn’t have to do everything. Knowing that helped him do everything right’, warned Torben Rosenbohm.
Chapter 3 was called Becoming a legend. Here the video on the video cub talks about Rickey helping win the 2015 BBL cup and his legendary buzzer beater in the playoff win over ratiopharm Ulm in 2017. It wasn’t Rickey’s best weekend during the cup win, but the club had a great supporting cast. His mother in law was at a wedding in Florida and was able to catch the game and went crazy half way across the world. His family often teased him that he never really was a guy that made the last shot as he had missed some, so making that shot against Ulm was a very sweet moment in the Paulding family. Another guy that also finished his legendary career this season with Rickey and Alex King was Ulm legend Per Gunther. He was a guy that was known for making the big shots, but that game against Oldenburg had to take a back seat to Rickey. ‘You always knew you had to watch Rickey Paulding. Even if he had 0 points at half-time, he could easily have 20 points in the second half’, remembered Per Gunther. Chapter 4 was called Oh Captain My Captain. This chapter had in depth analysis by ex teammates and opponents just how special Rickey was as a captain. Just hearing the tributes that these other players gave him is refreshing and very uniquel. ‘When you passed him the ball, you knew everything would be Ok’, said ex teammate Frantz Massenat. ‘Rickey was a great guy that helped everyone’, said Mladen Drijencic. ‘He always put the team first. He never spoke much. He always went forward. You didn’t have much choice but to follow’, stated ex Ludwigsburg guard David Mccray. ‘He never screamed, but when he spoke everyone listened. He led by example’, remembered Frantz Massenat. Chater 5 was entitled Pauldingburg. This chapter was about his standing in Oldenburg and what made him get that name Pauldingburg. When you have played 15 years in one place, it is obvious that his standing there is legendary. Rickey is Oldenburg. When you think of Oldenburg you think of him. If Rickey Paulding wanted to be mayor in Oldenburg he probably would win. I remember when Boris Becker won Wimbeldon in 1985, I read somewhere that the two things that people think of when they hear the word Germany is Beer and Boris Becker. In Oldenburg it is the same. Everybody in Oldenburg knows who Rickey Paulding is no matter what. The last chapter was Farewell my friend. Here were many many short farewell statement from ex teammates and opponents that were really emotional. It was very dark in the arena, but you knew there were tears flowing. ‘He was so competitive, but so fair. He was a role model on and off the court’, stated Bastian Doreth. ‘He had the complete package. He is at the top with the best guys that I ever played with’, said Frantz Massenat.
Now it was time for the final farewell. Before Rickey took the mic, it was time for EWE Baskets Oldenburg manager Herman Schuller to leave some lasting words. Everybody wanted to know if Rickey and his family would stay or head back to the states. It was made known that Rickey will return back home to the States, but on occasion return to Germany and helpt he EWE Baskets in some capacity in the organization. That was the best news of the night. I mean come on. Rickey lived in Oldenburg for 15 years. Oldenburg will always be his second home. Rickey is a Oldenburger. Schuller left some very impactful words, but something that is nothing new for any fan in the arena. Recently former Deutsche Bank CEO Jurgen Fitschen was in Oldenburg to meet with Schuller and was introduced to Rickey. He came in and said nothing. Then he just smiled. That is what Fitschen will always remember as well as everyone else whoever met Rickey. Then came the moment that everyone had dreaded. The hoisting of the immortal #23 of the EWE Baskets Oldenburg. 30 seconds of where hundred’s of Rickey moments were dancing in the heads of everyone. I wonder how many people in that gym were wondering ‘why not one more season Rickey’. I’m sure everyone was thinking that. As #23 was hoisted up to the other 3 EWE Baskets legends jerseys including Tyrone Mccoy and Daniel Strauch the applause was immense. Rickey then held a long 16 minute speech. Early in he spoke a few minutes in German, but for the majority he spoke his mother tongue. He talked in detail about Predrag Krunic who discovered him, Mladen Drijencic who was instrumental for him in the latter part of his career and his family. It was a heartfelt speech. And then he said thank you and left the court with his family and that was it. Rickey was gone. Unfortunately I didn’t see Rickey on this night. I had said my farewell to Rickey in Frankfurt and had him sign a few things. I had brought a few more things to sign on this night, but it just wasn’t meant to be, but I’m fine with it. I witnessed an incredible evening and saw how much love there was from a player to an organization and vice versa. From one legend to another ex CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis said it best this same weekend after he announced he is leaving CSKA Moscow after winning many titles there. ‘I don’t say goodbye. Id say I’ll see you around’.
It won’t be any different with Rickey. He will be back in Oldenburg again and everyone will see him around. I know I will see Rickey again some day probably in an arena in Germany. Thank you Rickey for enriching my German basketball experience the last 15 years. Rickey you will never be forgotten.