Jose Manuel Calderon: The low-key legend

2019-11-05T15:02:22+00:00 2019-11-06T00:51:15+00:00.

Aris Barkas

05/Nov/19 15:02

One of the most decorated European guards of all-time called it a day, and he still doesn’t get the credit he deserves outside Spain

By Aris Barkas/

This story describes pretty much everything you need to know about Jose Manuel Calderon. Back in the 2009 Eurobasket in Poland, a Greek sportswriter gets out of the gym for a cigarette. He is followed by a guy who is not that tall and wears a wool scarf that covers his neck and part of his face and a beanie.

They are talking about the Eurobasket semifinals, and another Greek sportswriter, already waiting outside, is watching them and smiles.

“Nice talking to you,” said the cigarette smocking sportswriter, “where do you work?”

“I am commentating for the Spanish television; I am Jose Manuel Calderon.”

If you are looking for the total under-the-radar star, you have just found him. There’s not a more low-key person than Calderon, who just decided to retire.

It’s not the profile that you might expect for a player who lasted for 14 seasons in the NBA, joining Steve Nash and Tony Parker as the international guards with the most NBA seasons under their belt. Despite a solid career that was spent mainly in Toronto and included 895 games – 591 of them as a starter – Calderon was never considered a marquee name in the States.

However, there’s more to basketball than the NBA. Before moving to the States  Calderon played for three seasons in the EuroLeague with Baskonia, then named Tau Ceramica and managed to win a Spanish King’s Cup, which is not a small feat by any measure.

And most importantly, he is also a distinguished member of the legendary Spanish “Golden Boys.” To be exact, you can argue that he was the most important player of that generation, not named Juan Carlos Navarro or Pau Gasol. And contrary to Navarro, he had a long NBA career.

On the other hand, he did most of his winning with the Spanish national team. And that’s a lot of winning.

Calderon won the gold medal at the 1998 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship, as well as the bronze medal at the 2000 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship.

He was part of the Spanish national team, which finished fifth at the 2002 FIBA World Championship and second at the 2003 EuroBasket. He was named the team captain during the 2004 Summer Olympics, and on September 3, 2006, Calderon and his Spanish squad defeated Greece and won the 2006 FIBA World Championship, despite missing in the final injured Pau Gasol.

In total, he has two golds with the senior Spanish national team in 2006 and also in the 2011 Eurobasket, four silver medals, two in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and two in the 2003 and 2007 Eurobaskets, and two bronzes, in the 2013 Eurobasket and in the 2016 Olympics, when he finally announced his retirement from the Spanish national team.

A leader by example and a savvy point guard, Calderon was more resilient than flamboyant, maturing as a passer during his NBA days, compared to his first seasons in Europe, where at best he averaged 2.6 assists per game, while twice in the NBA he finished the season averaging 8.6 assists per game.

And in 2009, he missed the chance to win one more gold medal due to an injury that kept him to commentators booth.

It was only natural for him to join the NBPA as a special assistant to the executive director, since he was a true leader from day one. And if by chance a friendly Spanish guy wants to chat with you during a Eurobasket final phase and you happen not to recognize him right away, he will just smile and enjoy.