Dishes & Dimes: Jose Calderon on his Raptors career, NBPA role and more
To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the "Dishes and Dimes" podcast, the ladies hosted a live-stream with some special guests. Former Toronto Raptors point guard Jose Calderon stopped by and talked about a wide range of topics including his favorite moments from his Raptors career, his new role with the NBA Players' Association, his special relationship with Toronto fans and more. Below is a transcript of the conversation with Calderon (or you can watch it above).
When you were on the Raptors, there was a lot of talk about players not wanting to play in Toronto. They had trouble signing free agents and keeping players long-term. Now, it seems like more guys want to play there, and we’ve seen more players re-signing and staying long-term. Have you heard that from talking to players and how has that kind of changed over the years?
Jose Calderon: I think they didn’t know Toronto enough. I think Toronto is a great city; maybe for us, as Europeans, maybe it’s easier because you come from another country and you get to Canada and you’re already out [of your home]. Maybe for U.S. people, they’re just thinking about having to get out of the country. I think that has a lot to do with it. I think that is the thing. But when people are there, they fall in love with it, just like everybody from Toronto. It is amazing. Like you said, we went through a lot, from kind of building something new when Vince Carter left and those good Raptors teams and having to start over. And we were lucky enough to build that culture and invite people to come to Toronto and [players] start thinking, "Okay, Toronto can be an option."
Not only has the Raptors organization grown in the eyes of NBA players, it’s also grown in Toronto. You were part of those teams, and there were some years the group struggled (like rebuilding after Chris Bosh left and after Vince Carter left). Since you were there, what did you see as far as the growth of basketball in Canada, and in Toronto specifically?
Calderon: I was there almost eight years. Vince Carter leaving Toronto was a big shock for everyone because we all know how big Vince Carter was for Canadian basketball. He was amazing at what he did and I think he showed people how fun the NBA is and how fun the Raptors could be. We had started building something and we went to the playoffs. [Then], after Chris Bosh left, we were kind of back to step one and we had to do it again... But I felt from the beginning, from day one, the Raptors fans were there; the city was there with us, the country was with us. We did a lot of training camps all around the country, and we felt that love. So I mean, yes, we weren’t winning some of those seasons, but I never felt like we were in an empty building; I never felt like people were just waiting for us to win. We all were building something together and that was my feeling from day one. I went to other arenas around the US and you can feel that during those bad years. They had a lot of empty buildings, and it’s tough. I never had that feeling in Toronto.
Because you were such a fundamental part of the culture in Toronto, what did it feel like watching the Raptors win the championship, finally, and seeing this city erupt the way that it did? How did that feel for you?
Calderon: I mean, I want one more! I couldn’t be there that day celebrating in the streets like all of Toronto, but I was so happy! It is my team. It’s the second place I spent the most time in my life other than home. I left my home when I was 13 years old, and I spent 8 years in Toronto. There are so many friends, so many memories, that it was impossible not to be happy. Other than that, I still have a lot of friends that are still working there from the organization, from the top with Larry Tanenbaum to everybody who I worked with on a daily basis on the team. So it was really special. And after they got Marc Gasol there, who is a really close friend, and Sergio Scariolo, who has been my coach for a long time with the national team, along with Serge Ibaka, there were too many connections to not feel happy about it. I was as happy as anyone. I was a Toronto fan, I was cheering for them, and I was so happy that it happened.
When Marc came, did you give him a call? Maybe give him some hot spots or restaurants to check out in Toronto, anything like that?
Calderon: I called right away and offered him my apartment. I still have a place there, but it was already leased. But I called him and said, "Look, what do you need? Whatever you need, just let me know. I’ve got a lot of friends there who can help you." But the good thing about Toronto -- and maybe people don’t know about this -- is that the organization is amazing. Even if you’re new and you get to Toronto, they’re going to take care of you. Whatever you need, they’re going to help you, they’re going to help your family, and make everything a little bit easier. Because like I said, you get there, it’s a new country, there are different kinds of documents [you need], but everything is going to be ready for you, and I think that helps a lot. For me, that was my first year in the NBA and it was amazing how they helped me to go through everything.
What did you tell him about Toronto's fans?
Calderon: You know what? I don’t think you need to talk too much about the fans. I think you get that feeling from playing in Toronto. I think Toronto always has a great atmosphere, people are into it. Even in the years that the team was not as good as the last few years, everybody was still into it and I think everybody liked that, and you can feel that in every sport in Toronto. And with Marc, he had already proved himself. Just being him as a person, it doesn’t matter how good or how bad he was going to play in Toronto, people were going to love him. He is a great player, but he is a great person as well.
What did you think when you saw Parade Marc?
Calderon: I’ve gotta say, I know that Marc. (laughs) We won together. We won the world championship together with Spain, we won the European championship. But even when we celebrate just having a silver medal -- like when we lost to the US a couple of times in the Olympics -- [I'd see that Marc]. That Marc I know, so it wasn’t a surprise for me. I wasn’t impressed. I told him, “Yeah, you could do better!” But he was great.
We’re talking about how playing in Toronto in front of the fans is a really important element; do you think the guys are missing that this year in Tampa, maybe more than they’re letting on?
Calderon: For sure. But I will say, not just because it’s Toronto but because at the end of the day, you just have to go there and you don’t know for how long. It’s a different city, you have to rent a house or stay in a hotel, you have to figure out too many things. And maybe for a new guy it could be easier because at the end of the day, you’re just getting there so this is your place, but for guys who have been in Toronto for a while and their kids are in school and they have relationships, whatever it is, it is difficult. It’s a tough time, and something you have to adjust to and it is tough. It’s hard for everyone, not just the players, but all the people you have to move as an organization; you have to go there and make everything happens. There are a lot of guys in Tampa now with families in Toronto and it’s a tough time. For sure, they have to suffer that and we don’t know for sure if the scores or the late games are because of that or because of whatever, but for sure, there is a lot on their minds.
Last season, you had had a role within the NBA Players' Association as the Special Assistant to the Executive Director.
Calderon: It’s a long name, but I’m just the assistant to Michele Roberts.
What does your job entail?
Calderon: The thing was... This is why I decided to retire. I was already thinking about retiring and spending more time with my family; the offers that I was getting were more of the same role where I would just be the third point guard, trying to mentor the young guys. And it’s not like I was tired of it, but at the end of the day, I was like, "Okay, I’ve already played 14 years in the league," my kids are growing -- now they are 6, 8 and 10. So the thing was, if a big team comes and they give me an opportunity to win a game, maybe I can play one more year. But doing all of this again, I’m not sure if I’m ready. And in that situation, when I was thinking about it, Michele approached me and asked me what I was going to do and I was already moving everybody to New York because that was going to be the place that I wanted to live, and she said, "Look, I need somebody. I need a player in the office, I need to have that player’s input in everything we do, and we’ve never had someone in the office in New York on a daily basis." So, that’s how everything started. It was just kind of a meeting with every department to see what we were doing. Because we are always trying to do the best to help the players, but sometimes maybe we’re doing the wrong thing or something that doesn’t matter or that the player doesn’t care about. We need that player voice to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish. After that meeting, everything changed because of the pandemic. From that role, it went to trying to help with the bubble and getting to be part of the task force with the NBA for all of that. So it’s been an amazing year for me in the learning process and meeting with the NBA and with our guys and with everyone just to get the bubble going. Now, this season with all of the protocols and the new season and so many things, that’s kind of my role in what I’m doing with the Players' Association -- connecting with everyone and being the player in those meetings.
You spent some time in the bubble, did you not? For a couple of weeks, right? How was that?
Calderon: Yep, it was great. It was great. Let me rephrase that: It was good because I was only there for two weeks outside of the bubble and one week in quarantine in a hotel room without leaving, because you have to be there for seven-straight days with a negative test before you can actually enter the bubble. So it was three weeks. It was good; I was able to meet a lot of people and it was amazing what we were able to accomplish. So many people working too many hours to make that happen. The problem for some of the teams was that it was so long. We knew that it was the safest place and the only way to do it and to save the season. But for the Lakers, Denver, Boston, the Miami Heat, the ones who got to the end, it was almost three months in a place where even if you have everything, you couldn’t leave and you didn’t have your family. It’s a huge place and it’s beautiful, it’s so many things, but we knew it was hard. So it’s amazing what the NBA and the Players' Association were able to accomplish, but it was tough for players, and we know that. That’s why some of the Lakers players were saying it was maybe the hardest championship, and for sure, 100 percent, it was tough to be far away and just in one place for that long.
What was the hardest thing about being in the bubble? And what are some things about the bubble that not a lot of fans realize?
Calderon: I think it was a little bit of everything. Being by yourself for the first month and a half without your family, without your friends. Even if you don’t have kids, just your normal routine [is gone]. The first week, I always say, was good. Everybody was fishing, everybody was going for a walk or a bike ride, there’s a pool, there were so many things. But after the second week, it’s the same. It’s more of the same, so you’re getting into that routine where it’s not the same as when you’re home and you’ve got so many options. Food-wise, we did an amazing job to have all of the options we had, and we were getting better every day, but it was the same thing. When you are in the same place for so long, you get tired of a little bit of everything. That’s why it was hard. The organization was crazy amazing, it was great, everything was taken care of. But the longer it went, the tougher it was getting for everyone. Even if you had your day off, you had your game the next day, so it’s not a real day off where you can say, "Let me just go to the pool," because you have a game. So, yes, you have the resort, yes, you have the pool, but you’re still in a competition mindset, so it wasn’t that easy to really enjoy everything every day.
I want to take you back to your first year in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors. Let's talk about rookie-season Jose Calderon. We know the challenges that players face when transitioning from Europe to the NBA now, but what was the biggest challenge that you faced back then when you entered the NBA?
Calderon: English. It was impossible. For me, it was English. It was so difficult. I was playing in Europe and we had some American players. I did some English in class, and I thought I was okay with English... until I arrived in Toronto. I’ve told this story a lot of times, but I got home after training camp one day and my wife was asking me, "Aren’t you tired?" And I was like, "No, I just have a headache. I’m okay with basketball, I can run as much as you want me to, but I have to think about what they’re saying." I had to translate and I had to think about what I want to say, so there were so many things [in my head] and it was so difficult for me. And even more so because of my position. I’m the point guard and there were so many times where I was calling a play at half-court and I’m looking around and none of my teammates are moving. They had no idea what I was saying. So coach Sam Mitchell, he just changed everything to signals. So, no more talking for José. It was tough for me. I took classes. I even remember laughing in the locker room without knowing if they were laughing at me or just laughing [at a joke]. No idea. There were too many accents, everybody was speaking so quickly, so fast, it was impossible. Those first months were a headache.
After spending eight years in Toronto, do you have a certain season or moment or playoff series that stands out to you most? Something that you look back on fondly? Maybe the ‘Boost Jose to the All-Star’ thing that happened?
Calderon: That was good, that was great. I never consider myself an All-Star. I always say that it was great to have my name out there as a possibility, I was playing great, but I always put my team first, so I was always thinking about how I’m playing good and [how that means] we’re winning and we’re happy. That was my mindset all the time. I always say that all of this All-Star talk, there are the LeBrons, the Chris Pauls, the Carmelo Anthonys, the Allen Iversons or whoever it was in those days, but I never saw myself or my name close to those guys, no matter how well I was playing those years or what the numbers were saying. I was okay, it was fun. [As for favorite moments], I always remember my first day. My first NBA game was amazing.
The first triple-double! I never looked for numbers, but you know how numbers are in the NBA and it’s tough; it was so difficult for me to get to 10 rebounds! It took me a long time to get the first one and then a few weeks later, I got the second one and I thought, "That’s it. I got two, that’s enough for my career, I’m good." So I was happy because of that. But there are too many things. I think we have so many stories. Too many really good teammates that I got the chance to play with, or watching DeMar DeRozan grow up, or my relationship with Kyle Lowry or Amir Johnson or before that with Chris Bosh and Co., with Anthony Parker, it was great. I’ve got so many good memories. Even the first time we won against the Nets and Vince Carter in the playoffs, but we lost Jorge Garbajosa right before, and I think it would have been a different story if we had him. We were playing so well and we had to change so many things. So just little moments, that team was amazing and we spent so much time together and it was fun and it was a great mix of vets and young guys, so it was good. It’s tough to choose just one moment. Even the day of the trade.
I remember your first game back against the Raptors when you were with Detroit. I was there, and I was so excited to be there!
Calderon: Are you talking about when I went to the different side of the hall and went to the Toronto locker room?
Yes, that’s the one!
Calderon: I remember that one too.
I can’t believe we almost brushed past that. You were so used to being a Toronto Raptor that you went into the home locker room! Fans loved that.
Calderon: It was automatic! I knew I was playing for Detroit, okay? I knew I was playing for Detroit. But it was just automatic. I was talking to people and saying hello, and I just went in. (laughs)
If we were describing your time in Toronto, 'unselfish’ and ‘professionalism’ are two words that immediately come to mind. The media would talk about your starting position and pit you against Kyle Lowry, T.J. Ford, Jarrett Jack, Jerryd Bayless, etc. But you handled it so well. And speaking of unselfish, would someone with your skill set be taking more pull-up threes and looking more for your own offense if you were playing today? You were very much a pass-first point guard, but do you think you'd be more aggressive and look for your own shot if you played in today's NBA?
Calderon: It’s tough to really think about it. There are too many people who say, "Why didn’t you shoot more?" when you’re shooting great. I was never in that kind of mind[set]. I always preferred to pass the ball rather than shoot it and it wasn’t about making the shot or not, it was the way I saw basketball. Could I be a little bit more selfish and take a shot or two more and maybe be an All-Star that year because I was scoring three more points per game? Maybe. But I think I played 14 years in the league just because of the player I was.
Do you think today’s NBA kind of forces players with a pass-first skill set and a team-first mentality to be more aggressive?
Calderon: Yeah, I think so. I think maybe to take more three-point shots than before, that’s for sure. I think that’s a change. It’s almost like even if you don’t want to, you’re going to have to shoot threes because you’re not allowed to shoot in between anymore. Just the way the game is played now, it’s faster and there aren’t as many big guys. Everyone is going small. There’s more space, you’re going to be open more, there are going to be more threes, for sure, and more pull-ups. I would love to play in it. I’m ready! No, I’m not. (laughs) But it is fun. It’s a different generation.
Somebody asked me today about what happened with the T.J. Ford thing and if I had to play more or less, and this is my thing: I had a great relationship with all of them. They were my friends. I’ve always been honest. We can compete against everybody; I can compete against Jarrett Jack and T.J. Ford [and still be their friend]. With media and fans, it’s always like that, [pitting us against each other], but I was okay with it because at the end of the day, I think it’s about what you do on a daily basis. I was really honest with my teammates, and we could compete and go as hard as we wanted, but at the end of the day, the coach was the one making the decisions. So if I’m playing more or less, it doesn’t mean I can’t be friends with you. It’s not my decision, I’m not the coach. For me, it was that we are here to win games. You want to do well, I want to do well, and we’re all trying to make our teammates better. That was the point guard position, and that’s how I am in all of my relationships; that’s how I work, and that’s why now I have a great relationship with them. I never had a bad relationship with them, not for one day, with all of them. Even from the outside it was looking like, "Oh, these guys are competing, you should play more," or whatever. It wasn’t an issue for me at all, and that’s why I think I played for as long as I played, and that’s why I got the feeling of being respected by my teammates and by the rivals that I played against.
The relationship that you have with Raptors fans is special. Right now, many people are commenting and saying they love you. Do you still get stopped often by Raptors fans and what does that relationship mean to you?
Calderon: I’ve got the best story for you. I was in Toronto with my son and my family to watch Game 7 against Philadelphia, when Kawhi Leonard had that crazy, amazing shot. So we ended up at that game and it was amazing, I sat in the front row with my son. But even before that, I was getting stopped all the time. We were walking in Toronto and people were asking for pictures and asking for autographs and saying "thank you, Jose" always. It’s respectful and I love it. It’s amazing, I stop and talk with people. So my son, my oldest, he’s just looking at me and he’s not saying anything at all. We had spent a couple of days there. So we ended up going to the arena, we went earlier and we met a lot of people there with the Raptors organization, we sat in the front row, and everybody kept asking for pictures. And then, they put up a [tribute] video on the screen. So now, my son is watching and after the video, he’s like, "Okay, Dad. Why do they ask you for pictures here more than in Detroit or in Cleveland? How good were you? Were you, like, LeBron James or Stephen Curry here? There is something I’m missing. What happened here?!" He didn’t get to see me play that much [later in my career] and I would tell him it's because I'm a veteran now and my role is different, so I wasn't playing as much. But he couldn't realize how big I was in Toronto or how good I was. So he was like, "LeBron James or Stephen Curry? How good were you?" So, that’s what the relationship is like. (laughs) I love it.
When I arrived in Toronto, they loved me. They held me since day one. In my press conference with my Spanglish, my Spanish/English, whatever, they understood that and they were okay with me growing and they were okay with me making mistakes. They knew I gave everything for the team, so it goes both ways. I love Toronto fans. I love Toronto and the city of Toronto. I have so many friends and they don’t watch basketball but they live in Toronto as well, and that was the biggest part of everything, just having all of those friends because of the eight years I lived there.
By the way, I told him, "I’m not like LeBron James. I’m like a few steps down." (laughs) A few steps down. He’s watched a few games now, so he kind of understands. But it was funny for me, just for him to say "Okay... My dad was like LeBron James." And now, he watches all of the games and knows every name in the NBA, so I’m enjoying it with him now as a fan, and it’s been great.
Tell him to look up 50/40/90! You’re the best free-throw shooter in Raptors history, so you are LeBron James to all of us here at Dishes and Dimes.
Calderon: Like I said, it’s just how I saw basketball. Those aren’t the things you really play for, you just play trying to win games, and sometimes that stuff happens and those are the little things that keep you going sometimes when you aren’t winning with a team. I remember the year of the free-throws, the three misses I had that year. There were only three, but I remember them and how fun it was. And the next year, at the home opener in Toronto, they gave me this nice basketball from the NBA saying, "You won last year, great job making history," and I missed my first two free-throws. (laughs) It happens! But Toronto still clapped that day, so it was great.