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Kaman, American In German Clothing

When Kobe Bryant spotted Chris Kaman with other German athletes at the Olympic opening ceremonies, he didn't have a problem that the Michigan born and bred Los Angeles Clippers center was representing another country. Bryant just wanted to know if the guy spoke any German.

"He doesn't know one word," Bryant said of Kaman, shaking his head. "Heineken, maybe?"

Kaman does know a little German. He didn't look confused when someone shouted "Hallo (hello)!" to him the other day; he waved back. He's been using a Rosetta Stone language CD to learn some of the basics, because he's only been a citizen of the country since July. Kaman never thought about playing international basketball for any country other than the United States until a writer for the German magazine Five found out that his great grandparents were from Germany.


Ja bin ich deutsch! (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

ESPN reporter Ric Bucher managed to hook up Kaman with Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, a native of Wurzburg, who convinced Kaman to represent Deutschland. And in a matter of months, Germany had a new starting center who will face the United States today at Wukesong Indoor Arena.

"I'm an American playing for Germany, so 'Traitor' is the first thing that comes to my mind," Kaman said when asked what people think about him representing another country. "I'm here to do what I want to do. I'm not here to please everybody else. I live my life. I do what I want to do when I choose to do it. I'm still an American citizen. I just chose to go back to my heritage."

Germany has no chance of advancing to the quarterfinals after losing to China on Saturday, but Kaman has no regrets about being in the Olympics - even though FIBA rules will now prohibit him from playing for the United States.

"Maybe down the road, I might" have regrets, Kaman said." But I'm not thinking about down the road right now. I think about my life, one day at a time."

US Managing Director Jerry Colangelo invited Kaman to participate with the US Select Team that scrimmaged with the American team in Las Vegas, but Kaman said that it was after he had already made a commitment to Nowitzki and the German national team. "I keep my word," he said.

He also said that he had no interest in getting beat up in practice against the U.S. team, especially when there was no guarantee that he would make the 2012 Olympics when he'll be 30.

Kaman's involvement with the German team was initially met with resistance from his team, the Los Angeles Clippers, and his childhood home in Grand Rapids, Mich. His father, LeRoy, "was not so thrilled. My mom has always supported me. She's great," Kaman said. "My dad was kind of negative about it. He was like, 'You're not German. You're an American citizen.' My grandparents are from Germany. He should be happy. It's his grandparents, my greatgrandparents. He should be happy about it."

Kaman later said that his father supports him - just not today: "He told me he'll be rooting for the USA."

Kaman said he also had a harder time than expected convincing the Clippers organization to give him the clearance to participate, since ankle injury kept him out the final month of the season. "It wasn't that I was mad at them. It's a business. I'm their property," Kaman said. "I was hoping they would be more supportive. I'm not making money. I'm here having fun. There was a lot of stuff that went on that I had to fight about, but I'm just glad I'm here now."

Kaman had a decent showing in the Olympics, averaging 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. He has been awesome cutting his teammates hair but struggled to gain a grasp of the officiating, the physical play of international basketball and trying to score around the trapezoid lane, since he is most effective in the NBA low block. His best performance came in his debut against Angola, when he had 24 points.

Kaman wasn't sure about his international basketball future, but he said he will continue playing for Germany under one circumstance. "A lot this depends on Dirk," Kaman said. "I came here because of Dirk. He's one of the top 10 players in the world. If Dirk plays, I'm playing."

By Michael Lee  |  August 18, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
 
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