When the Cleveland Cavaliers swoop into visiting cities, the media crush is immediate. Where LeBron James goes, the story follows. This is the case wherever the Cavaliers travel, which was evident in Toronto during a key Eastern Conference matchup in January.
There was no shortage of media-related bodies on the third floor of Toronto's Air Canada Centre waiting to see if James would speak following the Cavaliers' practice. And as he and Dwyane Wade sat chatting idly on the far side of the gym, seated below a series of framed Raptors jerseys representing each of the uniforms the team has worn throughout the years, there was a 36-year-old point guard getting up shots nearby.
That point guard was familiar with the rims in the practice court, not to mention the uniforms, of which he had worn most during his eight-year tenure in Toronto. When his post-practice shooting was finished, the same Toronto reporters who had been waiting on James forgot about their intended interview target, rushing instead to catch up with Jose Calderon, one of the most respected Raptors in franchise history.
After spending two days speaking with Cavaliers players and former Raptors teammates, it became clear that wherever he goes, the sentiment and perception about him is always the same: Jose Calderon is a beloved pro.
Now in his 13th NBA season, with a professional career that started when he was 17 in Spain, Calderon is nearing the end, playing the role of cherished veteran for a rollercoaster Cavaliers team that LeBron is trying to will back to the NBA Finals. He's the old guy now, playing on a team that features 26-year-old Tristan Thompson, who grew up rooting for Calderon and the Raptors long before his own NBA career started.
Thompson jokes about making Calderon feel old, but the veteran guard is happy that he's not the eldest player on the Cavaliers' roster. That distinction goes to sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who was born six months before Calderon.
"He was the most positive individual that I came across and it gave me the utmost confidence to be the scorer I am today in this league," DeRozan said. "He was always positive. I remember I had a lot of rough times, rough days, games, questioning, 'Can I shoot, can I do this, can I do that?' but Jose always gave me that confidence to understand you've got to keep going, keep shooting, keep playing. To see the professional approach he took every day was something I was always envious about and wanted to take from him because no matter how bad those first seasons [were], he was always a positive individual."
Calderon credited Toronto teammates Darrick Martin and Anthony Parker, along with Bosh, for helping him adjust to the NBA game. Coming into the league, he said, his goal was to always be about the team. This made his teammates want to help the rookie find his footing.
When he's back in Toronto, Calderon can often be found down the hall between locker rooms before pregame warm-ups. Tucked away between the two locker rooms is the "office" for Toronto's equipment managers, whom Calderon likes to catch up with when he's back in the city. No matter the amount of time that passes since his tenure in Toronto, returning always feels a little like a homecoming. From former teammates to coaches, security guards and arena staff, Calderon will forever be a favourite in Toronto.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is generally reserved when speaking. He chooses his words carefully, rarely giving in to hyperbole. Still, when the topic of conversation involves his former point guard, he has a hard time limiting his compliments and reining in his enthusiasm.
"Jose is one of the most competent and well-rounded human beings there is," Casey said. "Take away the basketball part, you want a guy like that on your team, in your business, in your company, in your family, whatever it is. You just can't say enough good things about Jose Calderon. He's a solid man, an excellent basketball player.
"He's one of those guys that could be having the worst day of all but he's going to make you feel like he's ready to contribute and do what it takes. You can't give him enough compliments as far as him as a person and him as a player.
Calderon's career will finish without an All-Star Game appearance, but he's had a profound impact on other players who have made the league's marquee mid-season event, such as DeRozan. Certain bits of DeRozan's success, some of his confidence on the court, and growing into the leader who serves as team co-captain in Toronto, can be traced back to Calderon's off-court assists early in his career.
"He always made it about everybody else," DeRozan, a four-time All-Star, said. "Being a good individual to your teammates, to everyone in your work environment, your colleagues, that's definitely something I took from Jose. To have a point guard like that, who gave off that energy, that vibe and professionalism, to this day, I carry a lot of things I took from Jose with me leadership wise."
The selflessness that has defined Calderon's career—both on the court and off—is why former and current teammates alike break into a smile as soon as his name is mentioned. Nearly 20 years after first going pro, Calderon heads to the Cavaliers practice facility a few hours before necessary every morning after he drops his children off to school.
After all the years of practice and perfecting, he says he's still having fun playing the game he's loved for so long. In the presence of a basketball joy this pure, the reaction of his teammates make sense: it becomes impossible not to smile, too.