BEIJING – Management had been such a comedy of confusion and missteps, and still Chris Kaman considered himself the constant that the Los Angeles Clippers could count on. When most of his teammates were determined to leave, Kaman committed to a long-term contract. He had hoped they would've better honored his desire to chase an Olympic berth with enthusiasm, but the Clippers' apprehension over his gimpy ankle has left him disillusioned.
"The Clippers made it very difficult for me to get over here, with the (medical) insurance and them not wanting me to go," Kaman said. "They lied to me a couple times. I didn't appreciate it."
He wouldn't reveal those so-called lies, but the trouble centered around an ankle that Kaman confesses is still sore.
"I don't want to throw the Clippers under the bus," he said, just after, well, he did say they lied to him. Kaman didn't seem angry, just disappointed. After all, this hasn't been the easiest summer to be a Clipper. Elton Brand is gone and a little part of Kaman's Clippers heart left with him.
"There's a lot of stuff that went on that I had to fight about," he said. "I'm just glad I'm here now. … There are so many things surrounding the Clippers, so many controversies. There's always something going on."
In some ways, Kaman’s the controversy now. Here he stood in his German national uniform, still stirred over his 24 points and a 95-66 victory over Angola at the Olympic Basketball Gymnasium. The Germans hadn't played in the Olympics since 1992, and its greatest player ever, Dirk Nowitzki, wanted so desperately for them to qualify in Beijing. So badly, Nowitzki recruited Kaman to apply for German citizenship and come join his quest.
So, Kaman, the 7-foot center, has spent the summer touring German cities and countryside, studying his Rosetta Stone tapes and playing an immense part in qualifying Germany in the pre-Olympic tournament in Athens. His has become an increasingly familiar Olympic basketball tale, an American traveling overseas to be an Olympic mercenary. Kaman is a goofball, an original, a free-spirit that isn't bothered with the backlash of becoming an Olympic free agent.
Kaman thought that his father, LeRoy, would be thrilled for him, that somehow he'd be honoring his own grandparents' homeland. At the least, he thought he'd be happy that his kid was giddy over getting into the Olympics.
"You're not German," LeRoy told him. "You're an American citizen."
As the rules go, this isn't an obstacle.
"He should be happy about it," Kaman sighed, "but sometimes he focuses on the negative a little bit. I try to tell him, 'Come on dad, it's just basketball.'–"
Nevertheless, Kaman is having the time of his life here. He's responsible for shaving the Olympic rings into his teammates' heads, including Nowitzki's. Sure, there are awkward moments. At the Opening Ceremony, Kobe Bryant walked over to him and said, "I want to hear you say just one word in German. Just one." Before the German's game Sunday, Kaman stood on the floor listening to the national anthem and kept asking himself: Do I put my hand over my heart?
Kaman, 26, had an outside chance to make the 2012 Olympic team for the United States. With Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden in the pipeline, it was a long shot. Team USA did call Kaman about playing with their select team of young players that scrimmaged the Olympians in training camp, but he had already given his word to Germany that he'd play for them. And once he did that, Kaman could never play for the U.S. again.
"I don't know all the rules," he said. "I don't care. It was something I wanted to do, the opportunity to go to the Olympics. It wasn't on my mind. I don't think it matters."
As much as anything, Kaman gets a chance to play in the deepest and best international basketball tournament ever here. As he sees it, it sure beats the scrubs and kids in the NBA Summer League. He wished the Clippers would see it that way, but he should understand that they do have a right to worry about the pounding his ankle is taking this summer.
"If my player wanted to go play somewhere – and I have the right to do that – they should trust me by now," Kaman said. "I've been playing for them for five years, and I've always come in shape. I've had pretty decent seasons. I think I'm worth every penny they're paying me. Sometimes, teams are a little different than other teams, they run their organizations a little different."
He stopped short of ripping the Clippers for losing Brand to the Philadelphia 76ers, saying simply that he'll miss playing with him. When healthy, they were a devastating duo. Now, he has free agent Baron Davis as his point guard and Marcus Camby along side of him.
"I don't understand what the Nuggets were doing," he said.
He didn't sound as thrilled with L.A. mining the 15-victory Miami Heat for Ricky Davis and Jason Williams, but so it goes with the Clippers. For now, Kaman is in the Olympics and sounding like he'd be willing to keep playing international ball for Germany. The Americans don't need him, so why not?
"If Dirk plays, I'm playing," he said. "That's how it goes."
Between now and then, maybe Chris Kaman will even learn the words of the German anthem.
- Chris Kaman