- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Chris Kaman, the
Los Angeles Clippers' center, draws a map of the route to his South Bay house
that is oddly to scale, the squiggles on the notebook paper replicating those
of the Pacific Coast Highway. "That was a good map," he'll say later.
But the most remarkable thing about his sketch--and you don't notice it until
you're checking it for signposts en route--is that he didn't simply indicate a
traffic signal at the corner of PCH and Torrance Boulevard. He actually drew
the light standard, a row of three blinking bulbs.
Despite all that, most attempts to sum up Kaman return to the word flake. "Well, he is a flake," says his coach, Mike Dunleavy. Kaman is totally transparent, without guile or agenda. He says whatever is on his mind and does whatever he wants. To visit him in the master bedroom of his house, where five leather recliners and a plasma TV wait for him and his entourage--which includes his brother, Mike, and three childhood friends--is to go on a kind of play date. "Do you want to see my knife collection?" he asks at one point. "Here are my remote-control cars. Do you want to see my closet?" (It's filled with 1,600 DVDs and his replica Rambo III knife.) But to be childlike in the NBA is to be misunderstood (unless you're Shaq). So when Kaman explains that the bobblehead in his locker of teammate Elton Brand will be used for target practice, he raises some concern.
"I might take a box of them back to Michigan," he says, looking ahead to the off-season, when he plans to hole up in the carriage house on the property that he bought in 2004 for his parents, Leroy and Pam. "I don't know if I could actually shoot an ear off. But can you imagine them all in a row, bobbing on those little springs?" As long as you're not Brand, it does sound fun.
There has been a tendency to explain Kaman's quirks in terms of his attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. In a predraft workout three years ago Dunleavy was annoyed when Kaman didn't respond to instructions. "Did I miss on this kid?" he wondered. Then, after balling up his jacket and shucking his shoes, Dunleavy went onto the court and showed him post moves--and Kaman responded. "He's not the only kid on this team with problems focusing," says L.A. assistant coach Kim Hughes.
By the time her son was 18 months old, Pam says, "I knew something was different. He was constantly moving, always out of control." At 2 1/2 Chris started taking Ritalin for his ADHD, and when he reached kindergarten, he began attending Tri-unity Christian, a small, private school in Wyoming, Mich., at which he got individual attention and extra nurturing. But he still had zilch impulse control and a lot of ingenuity. "We lost a lot of babysitters," Pam says.
She reluctantly confesses that at one point she told her pastor that she couldn't handle Chris and might have to place him for adoption. It might have been after the toddler whacked his sleeping father with his Etch-a-Sketch, bloodying his nose. Or after the four-year-old locked his babysitter out of the house and began cooking a pot of Pringles and ketchup. "Maybe it was after he pulled the shingles off the neighbor's roof," she says. "I just don't remember."
Kaman was both an indifferent student and an unlikely basketball prospect at Tri-unity Christian. He sprouted from 6'3" as a freshman to 6'11" as junior, but he was so skinny that few major colleges were interested in him. He stopped taking his medication for good at age 17 and believes that helped him pack on 18 pounds. Prodded by his coach, Mark Keeler, Kaman buckled down in the classroom and surprised even himself. "I got an A in algebra," he says, which helped improve his grade point average from a 1.6 to a 2.6. "I said, 'How am I understanding this stuff?'"
As a senior Kaman set school records for rebounds (24) and blocks (15) in a game, taking his team to a 24--2 record and the state quarterfinals. Even so, Central Michigan was the only Division I school to come calling--and that was only because then Chippewas coach Jay Smith's car dealer had alerted him to this string bean with leaping ability. "Chris had a bad rap," says Smith, "but I found that he listened, excitable as he was. And the more he gets accustomed to things, the better he gets."
During Kaman's junior year in Mount Pleasant he lit up Michigan for 30 points and led his team into the second round of the NCAA tournament. Smith enjoyed the fruits of Kaman's progress--he was voted the Mid-American Conference coach of the year twice while Kaman played for him--but he mostly enjoyed Kaman. One time Smith swung by the Kaman house in Grand Rapids and found Chris on the roof, firing a BB gun into the garage. ("Don't worry," Kaman told his coach. "We're selling the house.") After Duke blew out Central Michigan 86--60 in the second round of the 2003 NCAA tournament, despite Kaman's 25 points and 10 rebounds, the Chippewas moped all the way back from Salt Lake City. When the bus from the airport finally arrived on campus at 3 a.m., "there was Chris, unloading the bags, pulling everybody's luggage out," says Smith.
As a Clipper, Kaman is nothing if not a team player, getting out of the way for Brand and Cassell and, in the case of the team's 6--2 start at week's end, getting out of the way altogether. Against smaller teams like the Phoenix Suns, he has been less of a factor, as Dunleavy has chosen to go small. "It's a long season, though," says Kaman, unworried (if disappointed) by his meager 7.3 points and 5.8 boards a game.