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Dual Citizenship And Patriotism In Basketball

Born and raised in America, I don’t really have an outsider’s perspective on leaving my home country for another place, another culture, another world. I only know patriotism in reference to the good ol’ USA, not an adoptive pot I’ve melted into or otherwise. Developing a patriotism for a new place in my adulthood is a concept out of my grasp.

But basketball players do it all the time. Sometimes they’re born on one continent and move at a very young age where they develop their hoops skills. Sometimes they come to America to play for the NBA, eventually gaining U.S. citizenship. Other times, guys flee their home country to play for a national team despite them ever having learned the country’s official language.

That leads to a set of perplexing questions: Is it unpatriotic to play for a nation that you were neither born in nor have any family background? Can a pure-blooded Haitian, for example, play for Canada simply because he can make the roster and likes a bastardized version of bacon? The bounds of what is “correct” patriotism is unknown, and the idea of patriotism is complex in itself. To a sports fan, playing for a country you have little connection to could reveal a lack of patriotism. As a young man, it’s like jabbing that one friend for having a long-time girlfriend/wife in a decree of single brodom; for him, it’s slightly painful but not an insult? Or should it be taken as an insult?

I don’t have an answer for whether any of these things are right or wrong. In the end, the answer to my question lies in what’s important. Is a game of basketball more important, or does patriotism have priority? If you, an American citizen, were offered a roster spot on the Barbados national team (assuming you’re not also Barbadian) would you take it? Here’s a more philosophical and theoretical situation: If you were given the talents of LeBron James via a Space Jam sequel and thereby giving your team the chance to defeat Team USA in a gold medal game, what should you do?

This is where you ask yourself questions. Your patriotism and your love for basketball collide. Do you do it? No, I don’t know what I’d do either. But here’s a list of guys who do:

J.R. Holden

The poster boy for the adopted national baller, the Pennsylvania native and Bucknell graduate was playing professionally in Russia before prime minister Vladimir Putin helped out his CSKA Moscow owner buddy in getting Holden Russian citizenship. Not only did that bring the team below it’s two-American limit, it gave the Russian national team its starting point guard. Facing Team USA in an exhibition before the 2008 Olympics was of course awkward for Holden.

“I thought, ‘Wait a minute. That’s my team. That’s who I pull for,'” Holden told the Montgomery Advertiser. “‘I’m playing for the team against the United States.'”

After an extremely successful career in Europe, Holden is now retired and in January came out with “Blessed Footsteps,” a book detailing diaries he wrote through the last few years of his career.

Chris Kaman

The Los Angeles Clipper center has never played or lived in Germany. Oh, and he didn’t speak German when he first obtained his German citizenship. Apparently, one or two of his great grandparents came to the U.S. from Germany and he wanted to honor his (lack of?) German heritage by playing for the German national team. His father told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that he was a little disappointed in his son for playing on another national team.

“He should be happy about it,” Kaman told Yahoo! Sports, “but sometimes he focuses on the negative a little bit. I try to tell him, ‘Come on dad, it’s just basketball.'”

Due to FIBA rules, Kaman’s play for Germany relinquishes any shot at playing on Team USA. So why’d he do it? Just to play basketball.

“It was something I wanted to do, the opportunity to go to the Olympics.”

Samuel Dalembert

Haitian-bred, Samuel Dalembert could possibly be an example of the bad that could come about playing for a national team when a player has no deep roots in that country. First he acquired Canadian citizenship. Once on the national team, it didn’t last last. During the qualification rounds of the 2008 Olympics, the then-Philadelphia 76ers center was dismissed from the team for what his coach labeled ill commitment to the team and the country.

“Everybody that’s here now wants to be here, and wants to be a part of this team, and that’s it,” Canadian head coach Leo Rautins told the media. “Everybody here is playing for each other, and playing for Canada, and if that’s not your agenda, you’re not here.”

Dalembert’s agent, Marc Cornstein, refuted Rautins’ opinion, telling the National Post he thought it was “unbelievably disappointing and wrong to even hint at all to his [lack of] commitment to the national team.”

Hakeem Olajuwon

Some people do find pride in their adopted nations, and it’s a pride that can transcend that of a natural-born citizen.

In an opposite move of both Kaman and Holden – coming to the U.S. and not leaving – Dream became an American citizen in 1993 before joining the 1996 version of the Dream Team. The Americans were fittingly named considering that the Nigerian-born Olajuwon was the face of the team, his quiet demeanor supposed to fix the image of the 1994 USA world team that smashed opponents and added insult to injury with a repulsive cockiness.

“It is the most wonderful feeling,” Olajuwon told Sports Illustrated after he was declared eligible. “It makes me feel like I have completed my journey. I try to imagine what it is going to feel like the first time I walk onto the floor wearing this uniform. I close my eyes and try to hear the music when they play the U.S. national anthem at the Olympics.”

Other notable players who have gained dual-citizenship to play on national teams (national team/other nationality): Serge Ibaka (Spain/Congo) Ben Gordon (Great Britain/USA), Luol Deng (Great Britain/Sudan), J.R. Bremer (Bosnia/USA), Shawn Bradley (Germany/USA), Nick Calathes (Greece/USA)

Do you think it’s okay for players to acquire dual-citizenship to play basketball for a national team?

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @offensivelyfoul.

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