A New German? Olympian Chris Kaman and German Nationality

A New German? Olympian Chris Kaman and German Nationality

The participation of the American basketball player Chris Kaman in the Beijing Olympics as a member of the German basketball squad has caused some eyebrows to be raised -- not least, those of Kaman's own father LeRoy. "You're not German," Yahoo Sports reports LeRoy telling his son: "You're an American citizen."

But the story of Kaman's blitz naturalization is not only one of a basketball mercenary in search of a chance for glory at the Olympics or of the German national team's desperation to find a usable center to line up next to star forward Dirk Nowitzki. It also reveals abiding peculiarities in the German conception of nationality that are little known outside of Germany and even less understood.

Chris Kaman has never lived in Germany, he does not speak German, and his only connection to Germany consists of some ancestors who emigrated from Germany to the United States nearly a century ago. The ancestors in question appear to be two great-grandparents -- or perhaps just one: according to the German weekly Stern, a great grandmother to be precise. Nonetheless, almost all the American press reports on the subject refer to "Kaman's great-grandparents" in general -- as if all eight of them set off together to found a German colony in the new world. (See here, for instance, from the Denver Post: "But his great-grandparents were from Germany, so that lineage got the Michigan native on the German team.")

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.