"I think the Olympics are important to Shawn, although he wouldn't show it," says Walker, the Sonics' general manager. "The way he's playing, he knows he deserves to be one of those 12."
Kemp is sitting in the visitors' locker room at the Orlando Arena after a lopsided loss to the Magic. The other Seattle players are gone. The room is silent except for Kemp's voice. It is so deep that it seems to rumble up from somewhere near the earth's core. "I don't want people to think I'm a bad person," he says, "but I've come to know the truth: People are going to think what they want. I don't know if I can change their minds."
He gets quieter; his voice deepens. This is not someone you would call a man-child. He is not the person you see on the court. He has built a wall around himself, but it is clear he would like to change all those minds, convert all those people who wonder whether he has the character to represent his country or lead his team to a title. He is always climbing those stairs.
"I think some people believe the only reason I'm playing so well is that I want to make the Olympic team, and that's frustrating," Kemp says. "It's not true. If they ask me to join the team, I don't even know if I'll say yes."
The reason might surprise you: Kemp says he plans to go to college this summer. Of course, he has been saying this for years and has yet to enroll. "It's really important to me," he says of his education. "The guys I hung out with in high school, we were going to college. That's all we talked about: fraternities, going to class, having fun. I promised my mom I'd go to college, and you never want to let your mom down."
He lets the words hang there, judging their effect. He does not smile. He is not joking. He makes millions of dollars playing a game, and yet he says he wants to sit in an auditorium and take notes. He knows how crazy it sounds, but if he has to live life a little bit backward to reclaim a piece of himself, so what? Let the people back in those Indiana gyms chew on that for a while.