RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Some people travel a long ways to find a job, even professional basketball players. Brooklyn native Everage Richardson is playing hoops in a tiny town in Germany's Harz Mountains. Reporter Connor Donevan has his story.
CONNOR DONEVAN, BYLINE: When Everage Richardson finished his college basketball career, he was looking for somewhere to play. Somewhere turned out to be Elbingerode Germany, for the Bodfeld Baskets, a town and a team he knew next to nothing about.
EVERAGE RICHARDSON: When I first got in the car - of course, you know they've got the autobahn, so it's no speed limit - we were going pretty fast, and I'm like, man, I feel like I'm still on the airplane, but I'm just not taking off. Then I see, you know, we're in Berlin, and then it's, like, nothing but nature, nothing but nature, and then we got here, and I was like, oh wow, this is it, huh?
DONEVAN: The Bodfeld Baskets were in the seventh tier of German Professional Basketball. In fact, Richardson was the only player on the team with a salary. His teammates all had day jobs, and most of them had only been playing basketball for a couple of years. Here's Christian Schaefer. He's the team manager, now, but back when they were playing in the seventh league he was a starting forward.
CHRISTIAN SCHAEFER: It was kind of crazy because Everage owned us hard in the training, like real hard, and we got zero chance to stop him. Everage was like a real star here 'cause nobody can mess with him.
DONEVAN: And word of the unstoppable American quickly spread around town. Suddenly basketball games were must-see events. Richardson became a local celebrity. He earned the nickname Die Schwarze Perle - The Black Pearl. But life during that first year was a daily challenge for Everage. Thousands of miles from friends and family, he barely spoke a word of German, and struggled to fill the hours alone. Walking along a trail by his first apartment, Richardson remembers.
RICHARDSON: First year was too much free time, 'cause you know, we practiced maybe three times a week. I used to just come, like, before I went to the gym or practice or anything, I just came, probably walked around here just to get some fresh air, you know, get out the house.
DONEVAN: With help from his teammates, he persevered through that first year. He says Elbingerode feels like home now, though his computer is still set to New York time.
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DONEVAN: Each year, the Bodfeld Baskets advanced to a more competitive league, and they've brought in more salaried firepower around Richardson. Meanwhile, he's continued to put up ridiculous stats. But even this new league straddles the line between professional and amateur and it's still three tiers below Germany's premier Bundesliga.
RICHARDSON: I know I should be playing higher, but it's like, it's something that nobody really gets to do. You know, it's not a story that everybody gets to do every day where they can say, oh, I take this team from the bottom to the top. It's kind of like old school hard work, you know.
DONEVAN: A town full of fans are hoping that old school hard work can bring Richardson and the Baskets to the big leagues. For NPR News, I'm Connor Donevan in Elbingerode.
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MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.