Not rooting for his roots

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Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- Once, Chris Kaman was just the Clippers’ beloved flake. Now he’s an international man of mystery.

Once just a local legend, Kaman belongs to the world now as a member of the German Olympic team and the most controversial member, at that.

It’s not unusual for Americans to play for other teams -- one of Kaman’s teammates is Demond Green, a 6-foot-1 guard from Killeen, Texas, -- but Kaman is the only American-born NBA player flying different colors here.


He says he knew what he was in: trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with B and that stands for Beijing.

“I figured I was an American, I’m playing for Germany, traitor is the first thing that comes to your mind,” Kaman said after Tuesday’s 87-64 wipeout by Greece.

“But I don’t care. I’m here to do what I want to do. I’m not here to please everybody else. . . .

“I’m happy with my decision. I’m still an American citizen. I still play in the NBA. I still live in Los Angeles. I’m still from Michigan. I just chose to go with my heritage a little farther back and see if they’d allow me to play for them and I did.”

Kaman has German grandparents. However, his parents, who are from Grand Rapids, Mich., weren’t sure how they felt about his search for his roots.

After scoring 24 points in Germany’s opening win over Angola on Sunday, Kaman said his father told him, “You’re not German, you’re American.”


Kaman says that’s not exactly right.

“He said, ‘When you’re playing the USA, I’m going for USA, basically,’ ” Kaman said. “He didn’t want to support me when I played the USA. He said, ‘I hope the USA beats you.’

“My mom is like, ‘I want Germany to win.’ ”

“He’s proud of me no matter what I do, but at first he was a little surprised at what was going on.”

Talk about surprised, this isn’t how Kaman saw this turning out either.

He didn’t think of it as playing against his country because he didn’t expect to be here.

“I thought we were going to play in the qualifier and lose and that was going to be it,” said Kaman, whose team next faces Pau Gasol and Spain on Thursday. “I didn’t play to come to the Olympics. I didn’t have any idea. I knew Dirk [Nowitzki] was good. I didn’t know anybody else on the team.”

So here he is, on the other side of the world, answering questions about his patriotism with his vacation another month shorter.

In case he needed more controversy in his life, Kaman said Sunday that the Clippers didn’t want their center to come and “lied” to him in discussions about it but wouldn’t be specific.

After several calls from anguished Clippers executives, Kaman says that wasn’t exactly right either.


“I didn’t want to say it the wrong way, like I was upset with them, but I was disappointed they wouldn’t support what I wanted to do,” Kaman said.

“I love playing for the Clippers. I love playing for Mike Dunleavy. I just think that sometimes their self is what they’re thinking about. It’s a business. I’m their property, I’m part of their property, but I need a shot at being mine. . . .

“It’s over. I’m happy I play for the Clippers. I’m excited by the moves they made this summer and I’m looking forward to next year.”

On the bright side, when Kaman puts on his red, white and blue Clippers uniform next season, people will stop asking why he’s playing for his team.

Well, at least the Clippers hope they stop asking.

“Every time that’s the question, ‘Why do you want to play here?’ ” Kaman said. “The coach [Dirk Bauermann] gets mad a lot here.

“First of all, I’m like here for free. I’m not making money, I’m having fun.

“He’s like, ‘Do this.’

“I say, ‘Yeah, you’re right, this isn’t the NBA, but you’ve got to give me a little adjustment period. I’ve only played about seven games, eight games.’ ”


In his last game Tuesday, Greece swarmed all over Kaman, holding him to four points in 16 minutes.

This must be why they say never volunteer.