All Hail José Calderón, Atlanta's Game 4 Hero

Story by Jacob Eisenberg
Twitter: @Eisenberg43  

By any measure, José Calderón will go down in history as an international basketball legend. A three-time Olympic medalist with the Spanish national team, Calderon holds the NBA record for free throw percentage in a single season (98.1% in 2009) and is one of only eight players ever to enter the NBA’s illustrious “40-50-90” club. Still, in spite of his tremendous individual achievements, Calderon had only reached the playoffs three times in his career entering this season. 

So when the Lakers waived Calderon on Feb. 27 to clear up playing time for their young prospects, the 12-year NBA veteran understandably prioritized finding a winning destination in his free agent search. He didn’t have to look far; the Warriors – armed with a loaded roster and a need for a backup point guard – gladly signed Calderon on March 1 to a contract that was meant to last for the remainder of the season.

But by the time Calderon had officially joined the Warriors, Kevin Durant was diagnosed with a hyperextended knee that would sideline him for at least a month. Suddenly, Golden State’s Calderon splurge seemed superfluous in comparison to the pressing need for a rotational wing to replace Durant. Within 24 hours of signing him, the Warriors were forced to waive him to create a roster slot for small forward Matt Barnes. Less than a day later, Calderon was courted by and convinced to sign with the Hawks.

Fast forward nearly two months and it’s clear: Golden State’s eventful change of plans has played a big role in Atlanta’s first round rejuvenation. In a pivotal Game 4 that had “do-or-die” consequences for the Hawks, Calderon demonstrated consistent brilliance and composure, bringing the Phillips Arena crowd to its feet on multiple occasions. He finished the game with a team-high +/- of plus-29, scoring 10 points and adding five assists to the cause.    

“We may need to send a little thank you note to the Warriors,” Head Coach Mike Budenholzer joked to the media following Game 4’s 111-101 victory over the Wizards that evened up the series at 2-2. “It’s pretty special what he did tonight. We keep telling people how special he is. The character, the competitiveness. He’ll do anything for his team.” 

Ask around the Hawks’ locker room and Calderon’s character and spirit clearly have already left an impression on his teammates. 

“His swag is through the roof right now,” point guard Dennis Schröder explained. “He’s 35 years old but he’s still competing like I am. He’s out there taking charges and diving on the floor — whatever it takes. That’s what we needed.”

Tim Hardaway Jr. remembered Calderon fondly from their days playing together with the Knicks.

“José is so smart out there on the court. He doesn’t do too much out of his game. He makes the right plays and hits huge shots on timely possessions.”  

In a complementary role to Schröder, Calderon provides a perfect balance of veteran experience and preparedness.

“As a point guard it’s all about staying ready,” he said.

So while Game 4’s explosion caught many fans off guard, nothing about the moment felt too big for Calderon. Following detours with several organizations around the league, Calderon has quickly embraced Atlanta’s stability, success, and culture. Playing in the playoffs for the first time since 2014, he already considers Atlanta, his seventh organization, home.

“The way we’re playing together as a team has been great,” Calderon confided after Game 4. “I’ve been really happy here since day one. I feel home and I feel great.”

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