The story sounds like one that you’d see in a movie. Going from a 5’11″ power forward in Laredo to the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers by the age of 33 is almost stranger than fiction, but it’s all too true.
Blazers head coach Kaleb Canales, the first ever Mexican-American head coach in the NBA, made it there through hard work and perseverance. After graduating from UT-Arlington and spending time as an assistant coach at a few Laredo high schools and at Virginia Commonwealth University, Canales caught a break and picked an internship in the video department with the Blazers.
In the early days with the Blazers, it was all work and very little play for Canales. He would rarely would leave their facility when he was working. Canales even brought a pillow and blanket to the facility knowing he would put in a lot of long nights. One season, Canales figured out he had spent 144 nights sleeping on the couches at work.
It took him eight years, and the firing of Nate McMillian, but Canales finally reached the top, the head coach of an NBA team. The Laredo native knows his life in basketball was pushed forward by one night at a San Antonio Spurs game in the Alamodome.
“My dad scored some 300 level tickets for the Bulls and I remember watching warmups. I remember watching (Michael) Jordan and the Bulls warmup. I still have the pictures of that day at the Alamodome.”
It was that day, though, which cemented something that might not sit well with all Spurs fans.
“I think that’s why I was a Bulls fan and such a Jordan fan.”
In spite of living in the middle of Spurs country, Canales felt love for another NBA team. It wouldn’t matter for his hometown that rests on the Mexican border just two hours south of San Antonio. “Caleb Fever” is in full effect in Laredo. He was bombarded with calls and text messages for tickets and was able to get his hands on around 100 tickets for his homecoming. There were also an impressive amount of fans that showed up on their own. It would appear slowly, but surely, a concentrated Spurs market might be softening for one of their most famous sons.
“I know Laredo is a big Spurs country,” Canales joked. “At my camps (in Laredo) I say I’m going to try and turn every Spurs fan into a Blazers fan one-by-one.”
Even the most fanatical of Spurs supporters can’t completely hate on Canales. Everyone loves the story of the underdog that achieves and you can’t deny we could have a much worse role model for the youth of South Texas to look up to.
As the first, and only, Mexican-American head coach in the league, he understands what goes along with the title.
“It’s an honor, its a privilege and it’s a responsibility that I take very seriously,” Canales said. “I also hope it’s a message to the kids out there that they can’t be afraid to dream. Through faith and hard work is the reason why I’m here and I hope that’s a strong message to them.”
So maybe Spurs fandom won’t all jump on the Blazers bandwagon, but here’s to all of us having a new second favorite team.