Cavs Backup Point Guard Recalls His Overseas Journey to the NBA
If you’ve ever seen the documentary “Go, Tigers!” about high school football in Massillon, Ohio, one of the most memorable scenes is near the beginning, as nurses place tiny plastic footballs in the cribs of the newborn boys. The implication is that these young’ns are born to play football.
You might imagine that in the city of Villanueva de la Serena in central Spain, the babes were born to play soccer. But “La Villa” is a basketball town – and it’s where Jose Calderon’s hoop dreams began.
The Cavaliers current backup point guard, signed earlier this summer as a free agent, didn’t imagine he’d play in the NBA. But 12 years later, he’s established himself as one of the Association’s more solid point guards. And spending the first seven-plus years of his career with the Toronto Raptors, the two-time Silver medalist (2008, 2012) played with five teams before inking a deal with Cleveland in early July.
As the preseason rolls on, with the regular campaign less than a fortnight away, Cavs.com sat down with No. 81 to recap his journey from a small town in Spain to the NBA in today’s installment of “Growing Up” …
Jose Calderon #81 of the Cavaliers handles the ball during the preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks on October 4. 2017 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
I was born and raised in … Villanueva de la Serena, a small city in Spain.
We are about … 25,000 people. It’s small, we all know each other. I feel really special about it. It’s just a beautiful city; it’s very comfortable to live there.
Both me and my wife … both sides of our families are from there, so it makes everything easy for me in the summers. I really love it there.
For whatever reason … that city is a basketball city. Basketball is bigger than soccer there.
My dad played for … the Villanueva de la Serena, so I guess that’s why I play basketball instead of soccer. He was never a ‘full’ professional – he still had to work and went to practice after that.
I have one younger … brother. He’s four years younger than me.
I started watching and playing … basketball right away. I have pictures of myself sleeping on the bench while my dad was practicing.
There was never any pressure … to play basketball. My dad, he loves that I’m playing basketball but, you know, my brother played at the beginning and then he decided to do other things. There was no ‘one way or the other.’ It was whatever we wanted to do.
I was playing soccer … when I was a kid, too, for quite a few years. Or tennis. Or whatever. Now, everybody’s happy and it worked out well, but I could’ve easily done something different.
I was pretty good … at soccer. And I played tennis, as well. (I can play a little bit; I’m not great.) But all my friends were playing soccer at that time and I wanted to be with them. So, I was doing both – going to basketball practice and then enjoying soccer with my friends.
“For me … the NBA was something that was so far away.”
When I was young … I was lucky enough to always play against older guys. When I was 13 years old, that’s when my team assigned me – and I wound up living, like, six hundred kilometers from my home to play basketball.
That’s what happens with … the clubs overseas. It’s like the Cavs have the G-League and we have Under-20, Under-16, Under-14 – but it’s all the same clubs. Like soccer teams.
I had to make a decision … when I hit 17. It was like: ‘Do I keep going?’ I was with the National Team already at that age and I signed my first official contract when I was 17 years old.
So, my team … what they did was, loan me three years to the second division, just to get the experience.
At 17 … I went to the second division in Spain, played a lot of minutes, and we actually won that league.
Back in Spain, growing up … I didn’t watch a lot of NBA. I was more like, ‘I want to get better and I want to make the next team.’ I was focused on playing against the older guys, I wanted to be on the first team. So, I was doing that without really thinking what was happening over here in the NBA.
For me … the NBA was something that was so far away. It’s like, the best players in the world are there, and I thought: ‘They’re not gonna call me.’ I wasn’t drafted. I was just playing really good basketball, enjoying playing basketball with my national team and never really thought: ‘I have to get to the NBA.’
At that time … I was still thinking about Europe and playing on this side of the world.
It’s funny, I don’t remember … how old I was when I first dunked. I do remember all the time we spent trying to do it – how you’d try to curl the ball on your arm and come up from the left trying to get at the basket.
I was so happy … just when I got to the point where I could touch the rim! Everybody was trying to touch the rim. So, I was one of the first ones of my group who could touch the rim and I was so happy.
Back then … me and my friends would just throw the ball up there and then grab the rim so it would look like a dunk. But it wasn’t.