By: Daniel Reynolds
What can you say about Jose Calderon? As the last player of the Rob Babcock era, Calderon joined the Raptors in 2005, coming over from Spain in an unremarkable deal. I suspect it would be fair to say that many thought he would just be a backup for his whole career, or he’d disappear back into the mists of European basketball (Hey Roko Ukic!). Gradually, however, Calderon flourished as a steady back-up and eventual starting PG, a solid shooter and a valuable asset in the locker room. Naturally, the Raptors did what they could to trade him (remember when the Raps almost traded Jose for Tyson Chandler?) but could never quite find someone to take Calderon’s place on the team. There was the Ford vs. Calderon battle, and the hopes for Jerryd Bayless and Jarrett Jack, even the newest Rap, Kyle Lowry, ended up spending time playing second fiddle to the smiling Spaniard. So Jose Calderon is gone now, but really only on paper.
The Raptors are a fairly young franchise, they’ve never been past the second round of the playoffs – hell, they’ve only made the playoffs 5 times in 18 years – but they’ve got history. Looking back you can find bizarre characters like Oliver Miller, brushes with greatness with a young Chauncey Billups, even a few veterans whose presence helped legitimize the franchise (I’m thinking more Kevin Willis than Hakeem Olajuwon).
Thinking about Jose Calderon’s legacy got the ball rolling on a list of the favourite Raptor players in franchise history. We’re not talking about the best or most talented (McGrady, Carter, Bosh, even Stoudamire) because, let’s face it, most of the franchise’s best players have become notorious for gradually checking out as the team’s fortunes waned.
No, we’re talking about the Raptors players who brought in the right mix of professionalism, talent and, quite frankly, joy to the team; the players that helped build the franchise up from an expansion afterthought known for ugly jerseys into Canada’s team. Despite living forever in the shadow of the hapless Maple Leafs, and being largely an afterthought in the mainstream media, Toronto does love basketball and the Raptors (even though the team mostly drives us crazy). If you asked any serious Raptor fan on the street who the key players have been, the glue guys that built a place for the team in the hearts of many, I think these names probably come up.
First, some Honorable Mentions: Antonio Davis (could have made the list if it weren’t for some disappointing anti-Canada statements), Anthony Parker (a solid citizen and gentleman), Jorge Garbajosa (the new age Oakley completely cut down by an unfair injury), Kevin Willis (the definition of a workhorse veteran), Dell Curry (another classy character guy who also happened to be the best pure shooter the team has ever had), Matt Bonner (easy fan favourite, rode the TTC to games and ended up marrying a Canadian girl).
Now, the Top 5 Fan Favourite Raptors:
5) Morris Peterson – The true Raptors iron man. Mo Pete played more games for Toronto than any other player, had a nice active streak going for awhile (371 straight appearances), and provided some much needed heart-and-soul to a team that was going through some really troubling identity issues. He also gave us this moment, which I’ll always cherish. I remember once at a game, back in ’00 or ’01, I saw a fan with an election sign asking to “Re-Elect Jim Peterson“. The fan had re-worked the sign to say Mo Peterson instead, and there was a time when, if Mo had run, it almost felt possible.
4) Jerome Williams – To look at Jerome Williams’ stats is to be largely unimpressed. Sure, he could get you rebounds and maybe a few steals, but he wasn’t much of a scorer and only topped 30 minutes per game once in his career. But to watch Williams, well, that was something else. It starts with the nickname: The Junkyard Dog. When Williams, or JYD for short, was on, going full supernova, he was one of the best pure energy guys in the NBA. In Raptors history he is the guy that went full bore all the time, quick to jump in for a rebound, take a charge, wave his arms to the crowd and, in retirement, become a community representative for the organization.
3) Jose Calderon – Since this whole column is dedicated to Calderon, he has to make the list. No other player has so clearly defined (for better or worse) the character of the Raptors. At times joyous and overachieving, Calderon came onto a team that was really, really struggling to seize its NBA destiny. He emerged from nowhere (re: Spain) and was meant only to be a minutes-eating backup for whatever higher profile PG the Raptors could attain. But guard after guard came and went, and the most unlikely entrant into the 50-40-90 club became a steady fan favourite. Sure, Lowry has perhaps more pure talent, but I think Raptors fans will always have a space in their heart for Jose.
2) Alvin Williams – I was at the game last week against Cleveland. You know the one: the Kyrie Irving game. During breaks, awards were handed out to various men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. It was a nice tribute, and fittingly, the man handing out the awards was Alvin Williams. If the Raptors had to define the prototypical warrior in their team history, the discussion would have to start with Alvin Williams. He played until his knees gave out, poured all he could into the team and, if you recall, hit the shot that iced the Knicks in Game 5 in MSG, giving the Raptors their lone playoff series win. He wasn’t the most efficient player, he never really stood out in the broader scope of the NBA, and didn’t have a lot of flash to his game, but you’d have to think really hard to find someone who did more for the organization.
1) Charles Oakley – Here’s what we know about Oak: he still operates as Michael Jordan’s right hand man, he is still good for a random bizarre quote, and when he joined the Raptors, they immediately became a legitimate team. Truly, the presence of Oakley on the Raptors cannot be overstated. For a team that has lately been derided as soft, Oak made the Raptors a scrappy force (just as Tyrone Hill). Sure, he was good for at least one bad behind-the-back pass a game, and I’ll never forget that crazy, ill-advised coast-to-coast drive that turned into an easy game changing steal for Iverson in the ’01 playoffs (sadly, I can’t find the clip), but in a way, Oakley represented the ideal Raptor. He was unconventional, and would make maddening decisions at times, but when the game got tough the Raptors always knew that Oak would be there.
Like any true expansion team, the Raptors have been gifted and cursed with a wide range of players and personalities. This week we lost one more in a long line of characters that have played basketball in Toronto. So we say so long to Jose Calderon, we won’t soon forget Numero Ocho.