ADHD Athletes: Inspiring Sports Stars with Attention Deficit

Three inspiring athletes with ADHD reveal how their attention deficit has helped shape them into top competitors and big winners.

ADHD Athletes, Part 4

Chris Kaman

Center for the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers
"If I mess up, I mess up. I don't let ADD bring me down."

Chris Kaman was diagnosed with ADD at the age of two. At four, he locked his babysitter out of the house so he could try his hand at cooking (fried Pringles with ketchup, anyone?). At seven, while playing outside his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he started a fire that grew out of control; the fire department had to put it out.

In high school, suspensions were common for Kaman. He was prone to talking out of turn and jumping from his chair. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, he would turn off the lights in the classroom.

Yet Kaman never considered ADD a problem. "Sure, it's been hard for me sometimes, but I don't dwell on it," he says. "People get so serious about ADD. I'm like, 'Hey, I have ADD, what am I gonna do?' To me, all it means is that my friends and family get to give me more crap. Parents of kids with ADD have to stay positive. Maybe your kid will be a little crazy, but you can't get down on him every time he messes up. Everyone messes up. That's life. But eventually, we'll come around."

If staying focused in class was hard, there was one school activity at which Kaman excelled: basketball. Averaging 16.2 points and 13.9 rebounds per game (which helped his team go 24-2 his senior year to reach the state quarterfinals), Kaman thought he could be even more effective on the court if not for his meds. He thought they made him lose weight and feel fatigued. "I was seven feet tall but only 200 pounds, so I'd get thrown all over the court. I couldn't hold my ground," he recalls. "Medication kept me from being as competitive as I wanted to be. Sometimes I'd skip my afternoon pill, but my coach would notice and ask me, 'Chris, did you take your medication today?'"

After winning a sports scholarship to Central Michigan, Kaman stopped his meds. He gained the weight he was looking for - and his grades improved. "College was a much better environment for me, since each block of classes was only two hours long, tops," he says. "In high school, you'd have to sit there for seven hours straight, and that's hard for any kid, much less one with ADD."

Still, there were problems for Kaman after he turned pro and joined the Los Angeles Clippers, in 2003. "The biggest challenges were the huddles, and remembering the plays the coach wanted us to do," he recalls. "I'd be looking somewhere else, and my coach would yell, 'Kaman, what did I just say?'"

To get through to Kaman, Clippers coach Michael Dunleavy adopted a new tactic - showing Kaman what needed to be done rather than telling him. "He found out I'm a visual learner," Kaman says. "Once, he was trying to explain how to do a left-hand drive off my right foot, and I just couldn't do it. Then he did it himself to illustrate, and I got it immediately."

The custom-tailored coaching - and Kaman's hard work - began paying off. Go to any Clippers game these days, and you'll see hordes of Kaman fans, or "Kamaniacs." Many wear blond wigs and fake beards in tribute to Kaman's scraggly appearance (he hasn't cut his hair in two years).

When not playing, Kaman, now 24, spends much of his time in his Redondo Beach, California, mansion, which is equipped with a pool table, a Ping-Pong table, and an archery range. He shares his home with a posse of three childhood friends, a Rottweiler named Tank, and a nameless python. He doesn't drink or do drugs; the only vice he admits to is speeding (he once drove his Porsche the wrong way down a one-way street at 180 miles an hour).

Does Kaman have second thoughts about revealing his ADD to his friends and fans? Never. "I'd rather people know I have ADD than just think I'm nuts," he laughs.

This article comes from the June/July 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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TAGS: ADHD Role Models, Exercise and ADHD

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