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Raptors legend Jose Calderon helping athletes navigate life after sports

·5-min read
Jose Calderon is still racking up the assists in retirement. (Photo by Borja B. Hojas/Getty Images)
Jose Calderon is still racking up the assists in retirement. (Photo by Borja B. Hojas/Getty Images)

Jose Calderon spent almost 15 years in the NBA as a reliable playmaker and team leader, assisting teammates with his skills on the court and his guidance off it. Now retired, he’s trying to help fellow athletes navigate the challenging world that follows professional sports careers.

The Villanueva de la Serena, Spain native might have played his last game for the Toronto Raptors in 2013, but the former NBA guard still holds the city of Toronto close to his heart. And while current Raptors stars were facing the press during Monday’s Media Day at Scotiabank Arena, the Spaniard followed along from the side while he visited his old stomping grounds.

“I’ve always tried to come back at least once a year, although I haven’t been back in a while because of the pandemic,” he said in a phone interview with Yahoo Sports Canada. “But I love it here and I have so many friends here, so I usually come back a couple times a year.”

Calderon announced his retirement in November 2019 following a 14-year NBA career. After entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2005, he represented seven franchises, notably moving around the NBA in the latter half of his career. His best years by far came in Toronto, where he averaged 10 points and 7.2 assists per game while shooting 48.1 per cent from the field and 38.8 per cent from three in eight seasons with the Raptors. Known for his prolific shooting touch, Calderon led the league in three-point field-goal percentage in 2012-13 and in free-throw percentage in 2008-09.

Calderon had little to no time to ponder his future following his retirement, as he was quickly approached by Michelle Roberts and the NBPA to join their office in New York City. Since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, the 40-year-old has acted as the Special Assistant to the Executive Director for the players’ association.

“I had been working out in New York and maybe thinking about playing one more year, but in a situation where I can win a championship,” Calderon said. “That’s when Michelle approached me, and I thought it was a good time to leave basketball and focus on spending time with my family.”

Roberts felt that Calderon could be important to the work they do at the NBPA, bridging the gap between players and lawyers as a former player who is consulted day-to-day.

“Michelle told me she was looking for someone she can get feedback from on a daily basis,” Calderon said. “They never had a player at the office that could sit in on all the meetings and be consulted on decisions, and since I was already in New York, it was the perfect opportunity.”

While a 9-to-5 office job might be new to Calderon, he’s no stranger to broadening his involvements and ventures outside of his NBA career. Alongside his work with the players’ association, the former Raptors star is a global advisor for tech-media company SNGULAR, a Spanish talk-show host with UNIQ and an ambassador with UNICEF. He’s also participated in college business courses, most recently taking part in Harvard Business School’s “Crossover Into Business” program, helping professional athletes get their feet wet in the world of business.

He urges NBA players and other professional athletes to consider their post-retirement life even before their careers are over.

“You’ve got so much time in planes and in hotels, that it’s easy to find time to read and attend courses,” he said. “That way you can get comfortable when the time comes to make investments or start new projects.”

His experience and success in the business sphere is something he’ll be sharing as a keynote speaker at the Athlete Tech Summit on Friday — a virtual conference designed to introduce athletes to tech and business venture opportunities. The summit is hosted by the Athlete Tech Group, a collective that facilitates networking between athletes and the business world through technology.

“Whether it be investment, education, or possible careers that help them with their own startups, we’re really helping these athletes with their transition,” said Athlete Tech Group founder Randy Osei. “We believe technology is the right vehicle to help them with that transition because they could be so impactful and so influential within a space that’s budding and growing.”

Like Calderon, Osei understands the importance of athletes getting involved with ventures outside of sport as they navigate uncertain careers.

“The average career for a pro athlete is about three and a half years, and these athletes accumulate the majority of their wealth before the age of 30, so they have to prepare for what’s coming next,” Osei said. “I always tell athletes, ‘Tomorrow could be the last day you play sports; how are you preparing?’”

Whether it’s through his work with the NBPA or appearances at conferences such as the Athlete Tech Summit, Calderon hopes to underline the notion to his peers that they are more than just athletes, and that extends to the way they present themselves to the business world.

“You cannot get to September, realize that you don’t have any interest from teams and not know what to do next,” Calderon said. “You have to start thinking of what you’re going to do with your life after sports at some point, so why not do it sooner than later?”

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