Before Eric Bigger was traipsing through Denmark as a contestant on ABC's "The Bachelorette," he was a basketball-loving Baltimorean growing up in the city's Reservoir Hill neighborhood.
Bigger is one of four men still vying to win over Rachel Lindsay, a Texas lawyer and this season's bachelorette. He's made it to the "hometowns" level of competition — where contestants bring the bachelorette home to meet friends and family and tour their childhood town.
For Bigger, that's Baltimore.
While he isn't authorized to discuss his progress on "The Bachelorette," Bigger talked with The Baltimore Sun last week about his upbringing in Charm City before bringing Lindsay to Baltimore on Monday night's episode.
Bigger has four siblings, three sisters and a brother, and said he was the "big-little" brother, overprotective regardless of his position as a middle sibling. On "The Bachelorette," Bigger opened up to Lindsay about his upbringing and confessed he'd seen close friends die and family members get tangled up with drugs and crime.
In the interview with The Sun, Bigger said that while he loves his city and thinks it deserves better than its rough reputation, his home environment was "hostile."
"My mom and dad was there … but they weren't in my life from an emotional standpoint," he said. "I took on everyone else's burdens and emotions … it was just a very negative environment."
In order to stay focused and out of trouble, Bigger turned to basketball.
Bigger started off playing for Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School under coach Darrell Corbett, who coached NBA player Carmelo Anthony. Basketball helped Bigger "cope with the negativity" and stay focused on school (he needed good grades in order to compete).
"Basketball was definitely a place where he could bring his best and really channel his energy," said Bigger's aunt, Vernā Myers, who works as a diversity consultant in Baltimore.
Bigger said he then played at City College. He went to Howard Community College and played basketball there, scoring 139 points in 26 games during Howard's 2007-08 season.
Despite the crime that persisted in his neighborhood, Bigger said there are more important symbols — "Artscape, chicken boxes, dirtbikes" — that come to his mind when he thinks about Baltimore.
He frequented the Cloverdale Basketball Courts, often catching games and playing in summer leagues at the community spot near Druid Hill Park. He's a fan of Attman's Delicatessen corned beef and the North Charles Street restaurant Never On Sunday. He took in fireworks at the Inner Harbor on the Fourth Of July and wandered through Artscape during the summer.
"I think the city is lacking love, acknowledgment of how real it is, how humble it is," he said.
After Howard, Bigger attended Hampton University in Virginia, where his "personality opened up" and he expanded his interests. He co-hosted a radio show and started a student leadership program. After graduating in 2010, he took a government job with the Census Bureau, but friends and family pushed Bigger to leave the city and pursue opportunities on the West Coast.
His decision to try his luck in Los Angeles, where he lives now, was "unusual" for his family, Myers said, but serves as an example of his tenacity.
"He doesn't allow the fact that he hasn't done something before, or no one he knows has done something before, to deter him," she said.
Bigger at first worked a series of odd jobs — he served as an extra in commercials and shows and even tried to crack the booming app market with his motivational message app, Eric Bigger: Successful Living. Eventually, he found success as a fitness instructor, helping Hollywood types get in shape at fitness "boot camp." He's now self-employed and working as a personal trainer.
Though Bigger can't discuss "The Bachelorette" specifics until he's either eliminated or wins, he said he's been "running from TV" ever since moving to Los Angeles. Eventually, though, curiosity got the best of him.
"It wasn't even about TV at the time, it was about life," he said. "I was open to it, I took advantage of it, and the rest is history."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Eric Bigger appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." The Sun regrets the error.
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