TORONTO (Reuters) - He is just one of only four players to have played 500 or more games for the Toronto Raptors yet Jose Calderon never appeared to find a home in the National Basketball Association’s northern outpost.
Although Calderon spent seven and a half seasons in Toronto and holds the club record for assists (3,370) the Spaniard, with the permanent smile and five o’clock shadow, always seemed like a visitor.
On Monday, Calderon was just that, making his first appearance in Toronto since a late January three-team deal brought Rudy Gay to the Raptors and landed the 31-year-old guard with the Detroit Pistons.
The modern professional athlete’s life is often a nomadic one, the movement of players from one team to another an almost daily occurrence.
Calderon, however, had never displayed any mercenary leanings, developing deep roots in the Toronto community.
Calderon’s homecoming, which included a 19-point, nine assist performance and a 108-98 win over his former team, represented closure on the biggest chapter of the Spaniard’s basketball life.
Toronto had always displayed a fondness and respect for the hardworking Calderon and he has always expressed his fondness for the city.
Both were evident on Monday, as fans gave Calderon a heartfelt standing ovation when he was introduced and again during a first quarter video tribute.
Certainly it was a much different welcome back than other Raptor luminaries, such as Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and Tracy McGrady, received on their returns to the Air Canada Centre where they were and continue to be lustily booed.
”Jose is a guy you root for,“ summed up Pistons coach Lawrence Frank. ”Jose didn’t ask to be traded, he didn’t sign with another team.
“He just got traded because he was in the last year of his deal and the team was looking to move in another direction.”
A gifted playmaker and natural born leader, Calderon learned his trade on the Iberian hardwood and captained Spain’s 2004 Olympic team before going on to win world championship gold in 2006 and silver medals at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games.
He brought the same skill set and qualities with him to Toronto in 2005 but from the day he arrived faced an almost constant challenge for the starting job.
But the Raptors could never find a reason to let Calderon go until this season when he entered the final year of his five-year $45 million contract and was poised to become a free agent.
“I did everything I could for this team, I always tried to do my best, sometimes you play good, sometimes you play bad but at the end of the day this is me,” said Calderon.
”I‘m always trying to be the same guy and just do the right things and always put the team first.
“I think that is what makes you a better person. A better player for sure.”
Editing by Julian Linden