As one of the most underrated Toronto Raptors, Jose Calderon is a fan favourite because of his humble demeanour which endeared him to a generation of fans.
It was a mild summer evening. My friend, Alan and I were strolling along downtown Toronto when it suddenly rained. Taking shelter in the Eaton Centre, we got hungry and went to McDonald’s. I was so focused on what I was going to order when Alan kept poking me and tugging at my shirt.
“It’s Jose!” Alan kept whispering. Confused, I responded, “Jose?”
I turned and to my left was a rather ordinary-looking guy in a white-and-black Adidas tracksuit. It took me a few seconds to realize that this man was the one-and-only Jose Calderon, “Numero Ocho” of the Toronto Raptors.
Jose was coming up to order. In what was a sparsely crowded McDonald’s ordering area, no one seemed to pay attention to him. He blended right in. And you would forgive me, even as a diehard Raptors fan, to not notice the beloved Spaniard who played point for a solid eight seasons with the franchise.
“Jose!” Alan called as I cringed.
Jose was ordering with the cashier but still addressed Alan as he looked towards us. My heart started pounding rapidly as we made eye contact.
“Go Raptors go!” Alan cried as I gritted my teeth in sheer embarrassment.
“Yes, yes,” Jose replied meekly as he nodded and waved at us looking a bit embarrassed himself.
As someone who worked in sports apparel retail in downtown Toronto, I met several Raptors personally over the years. But over 13 years later, I still remember this one memory vividly.
The Sentimental Favourite
When it comes to Raptor fan favourites, the popular flashy players come to mind. The boisterous “Junkyard Dog”, Jerome Williams, the high-flying Jamario Moon, or the eccentric Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira.
Jose Calderon was the quiet favourite. He was the unassuming kid in the “It Group” in school. There was the star athlete, the Instagram influencer, the valedictorian, the YouTube sensation, and the average joe or jane who everyone just liked, even if no one proudly proclaimed it to the world.
And just like his popularity off the court, Jose’s style of play didn’t exactly rock everyone’s socks off. However, quiet as a mouse, he put up solid numbers with the Raptors: 10 points, 7.2 assists, and only 1.7 turnovers per game with a 48/39/88 shooting line. Numbers that can make you see why he was both loved and underrated.
Efficiency is sexy in basketball, but it’s not exactly something you’d bring with you to impress your crush. Calderon’s game is like the Honda Civic or the Toyota Corolla, two of the most reliable cars and ones you’d take for granted. You don’t love them when you have them. You realize you loved them when you don’t have them anymore.
That’s what Jose was on the court. He looked good in the stats sheet and made a career out of outshining the starters before him – T.J. Ford, Jarrett Jack, even a young Kyle Lowry.
But even if his detractors picked on him for his “stat-padding” and disappearance in the clutch, Jose was popular enough to get Raptors fans to rally and try to vote him into the All-Star game.
The fans made so much noise they caught the attention of Gilbert Arenas, who ridiculed them for using efficiency as a metric for All-Star status. Yet Arenas was out of the league in 2012 and Jose still landed roles as a 37-year-old most recently.
After being traded from Toronto, Jose was interviewed backstage. And even as he stayed stoic as he usually did, you could feel the somberness from his tone. But once the fans were mentioned, Jose swallowed tears and quickly became sentimental.
“They have been with me since day one,” he said as he cut the interview short and left.
I shed some tears seeing that video six years ago. But I shed even more seeing our one and only Numero Ocho wave to the crowd as 20,000 fans gave him a standing ovation.
— Lindsay Dunn (@LindsayDunnTV) May 12, 2019
Te amamos, Jose! Estamos orgullosos de ti.
Jose will always have a special place in the hearts of Toronto Raptors fans everywhere.