Jose Calderon leads Pistons over Raptors in emotional return to Toronto

USA TODAY Sports

Calderon made his first appearance in Toronto on Monday night since being traded earlier this season.

On Monday night, Jose Calderon played his first game back in Toronto after being traded to the Detroit Pistons earlier this season.

Although the actual game was competitive, and at times exciting, the storyline was always going to be about Calderon's return to Canada.

From the moment Calderon entered the Air Canada Centre, he knew it was going to be a very different night.

"Its weird to play your former team, but here is a different feeling," Calderon said. "That's where I played, this was my home for eight years. This is where I played to win, to do a lot of things with the fans. Its a lot of connections here. It's still very different. The other day I was a little bit weird talking to my teammates, but today just walking into the arena, all the stuff, it's felt very different."

Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank also acknowledged this would not be just another game for his team's starting point guard.

"There's obviously a lot of emotion involved. I think this will be a little bit different than some of the other former Raptors," Frank said. "You know, again, I was around when Vince came back. And Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh. And I think this will be, hopefully, complete opposite. I would imagine that the Toronto faithful - and they have a great fanbase here, they pack this house -- will be very appreciative because I think Jose's a guy you root for."

Once it was time for the game to tip off, Calderon came out and handled himself the way most people would have expected -- like a professional. As a result, he had quite the homecoming.

Calderon finished with 19 points and nine assists, showing off all of the shooting, playmaking and team-leading skills that made him a household name in Toronto, leading his Pistons to a hard fought 108-98 victory.

Despite the impressive performance, the most meaningful moments of the evening for Calderon came during times in which the game wasn't going on at all.

During pregame introductions, Calderon was introduced to the crowd last and received a brief standing ovation that was abruptly halted after game ops. turned the lights out to signal the beginning of the Raptor player introductions.

Fans got a second chance to show their appreciation for the Spaniard when, after a timeout early on in the first quarter, a video tribute to Jose played on the big screen at centre court.

This ovation was much louder and more extended. Things got a little more emotion as Calderon could be seen on the screen partly watching the video and, in true Jose Calderon fashion, trying to acknowledge the fans while also struggling to pay attention to his head coach in the huddle.

"I think it's going to be one of the better moments in my career, for sure." Calderon said after the game. "It was a lot of great moments there that came to mind. I was thinking about it. It was a tough one because it was during a timeout, so I didn't know if I should check the board while coach was talking or just say thank you. It was great."

After the final buzzer had sounded and Calderon hugged his former teammates, he walked off the floor to another nice hand from the Toronto faithful. Number eight -- or, numero ocho as he was commonly referred to during his time here -- dolled out high fives, and even stopped to sign something for a fan on his way out down the tunnel.

The most amazing part of the night was that it almost didn't happen.

It had been alluded to prior to tip off that Calderon had injured himself during the Pistons previous contest. Those rumors were confirmed after the game by Pistons forward Corey Maggette.

"He was hurt tonight too, he wasn't supposed to play," Maggette said.

This sense of loyalty and responsibility to his team as well as the fans of Toronto are what makes Calderon such a special player and person. It is rare among professional athletes to find someone that carries himself the way Calderon does.

"What he said was he didn't want to let his team down, he didn't want to let his fans down in Toronto," added Maggette "I mean, who does that?"

Jose Calderon does that and frankly, after watching him for seven and a half seasons, I don't think there was a single person in that arena that would expect anything less from him.

Extras

Maggette on the ovation:

"It just shows the respect of the Toronto fans and the Toronto organization. Jose, he is a really good guy. He has the utmost respect here for the people.. I wasn't surprised with the ovation. The fans really showed how much they missed him and how much they care about him. He was here for eight plus years. You can't beat that."

Maggette on what Calderon has brought to the Pistons

"Well, definitely his playmaking. He is definitely a guy that knocks down open threes, he has been really really good at that. He is always positive, he stays positive. You don't get too high, you don't get too low and he is right there. He is always communicating. He is one of my favorite teammates that I've had. He has just being doing all that stuff, staying positive and being a veteran leader for our team. That is what you expect. I don't expect nothing else out of him."

Maggette on how Calderon is fitting in

"Well I think it's more about the type of person that he is. A lot of people gravitate to good people and he is one of those guys, man. He was welcomed with open arms as soon as he came on our team plane -- he was sitting right next to me and Will [Bynum] and we welcomed him in like he was apart of our family.

"He is just a good guy man, it is good to see the respect level that he had here because you wont see that in the NBA a lot. Definitely, you would swear it was a magic Johnson or Kobe Bryant.. Its unbelievable, what he did. I think the biggest thing, having the ovation is the class. He has stayed a class act, and when you do that with an organization, they really reward you and this was one of those opportunities."

Maggette on Calderon as a teammate

"This is my 14th year and I think you can pretty much just read people right off of the bat, just the way they carry themselves and their approach. They move right in and say ‘hey I'm Jose' just introducing themselves the right way. I think that's important to do that. Jose came in and talked to the guys and just showed that he loved our teammates like we were brothers. And that is important, man."

Calderon on coming back to Toronto

Like I said, it's been weird since this morning being in Toronto in a hotel. Just having a meeting this morning, coming down with the bus to the ACC. Yeah, I don't know. Different feeling. I don't know how really to explain the whole thing. I don't know, it's just weird. It's just a weird feeling all-around. It's like, I've been here, like it was a couple months ago. It's not like last year ... I started the season here. It's kind of like really, really, it's still really close.

Calderon on Amir:

Well, everything. I think from day one to where he is right now, ti's amazing. He can do a lot of things. He's the kind of guy you always want in your team. He does everyting right, every night he competes, every night he's there. You know he's going to show up. And that's tough to do and he's been doing it for now I don't know how long. He's been great. Great friend, great connection with him, we play really good basketball for a long time. It's nice to see him grow that way.

Calderon on playing against the Raptors for the first time Friday

It was weird. But it was funny at the same time. Knowing all the calls that they were calling. And some funny moments, like DeMar asking Kyle, ‘What's the play?' And I'm like, ‘You don't know the play? I know the play.' Some stuff, so it was kind of funny. It was great moments there. Just a weird feeling. Like I say, it's close. It was just like 20 games ago I was playing with them, so it's not like a lot of time went through. So that's why I think it's even more special.

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