The brief and wondrous climb of Kaleb Canales
El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — Of all the quotes that came out of El Hispanic News’ recent interview with Kaleb Canales, this rather simple one might be the most indicative of the state of mind of the Portland Trail Blazers’ interim head coach: “The responsibility that I’ve been blessed with from Mr. [Paul] Allen, Mr. Larry Miller, and Chad [Buchanan], is one we take very seriously and we want to make the City of Portland proud.”
Yes, there’s the sense of awed gratitude at this rare opportunity, but more telling is the switch from “I” to “we.” Canales is so absorbed in his job, he can’t seem to keep straight when he’s talking about himself and when he’s talking about his team.
The Trail Blazers are pretty much his world. His lack of a social life and habit of sleeping at the team’s practice facility are cited in the media and by game commentators almost as often as his tender age (33, younger than some of his players).
“I have a very boring life,” Canales admits. “I’m here at the practice facility most of the day. So, if somebody followed me throughout the day, I think they’d get bored really easily. I’m watching film and trying to find ways to improve our team and improve our players and help them get better.”
But what other than extreme dedication and single-mindedness does it take to rise from unpaid intern to video coordinator to assistant coach, and to be suddenly called upon to lead a struggling NBA team through the final stretch of a truncated season after your highly-respected boss is fired?
For Canales, the first Mexican-American head coach in NBA history, it also took faith, humility, a great deal of energy and hard work, and, above all, education.
“The one thing my parents always demanded from us was education,” Canales says. “They understand the importance and value of it. They understood how important it was to our future. So it was never, ‘Are we going?’ It was, ‘How and when we are going.’ I wouldn’t have been blessed with this opportunity if I wouldn’t have gotten my master’s degree.”
The bilingualism his parents also prized was on display last month when, a week after he was named head coach on March 15, Canales participated in a Spanish-language conference call with media outlets from Mexico and the U.S. It wasn’t the first time Canales had put his Spanish-speaking skills to good use in the NBA; back when Spaniards Rudy Fernández and Sergio Rodríguez were on the team and still struggling with their English, “I tried to help them as much as I could.” But, he jokes, “I can’t help Nic [Batum]. He speaks French. … I’m not even gonna try to do that.”
The Canales family work ethic
Canales’ father, Víctor, who hails from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, still works two jobs — one at Dillard’s department store and the other at a tuxedo rental establishment. His mother, Alicia, who like her two children was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, is an employee of the Laredo School District and only recently gave up her second gig at Dillard’s.
Canales and his younger sister, Chantall, got the message early: “This is the way we’re going to function as a family. We’re going to be hard working, we’re going to be humble, and we’re gonna just stay faithful and try to control what we can control. That’s our attitude every day,” Canales says.
That attitude led Canales to the decision immediately after high school that while basketball was his future, he’d be on the sidelines in a suit rather than suited up to play.
“I came to the realization I wasn’t good enough to play college basketball, so I decided to try to study the game and learn the game of basketball as much as I could,” Canales recalls. “To this day I am still trying to learn and grow every single day. But you know, I just prayed to God and tried to prepare for it as much as I could, tried to understand the commitment that was needed to be able to coach.”
Dreams vs. reality
Canales hopes his story tells young people that “they can’t be afraid to dream. … I hope that me being blessed with this opportunity shows them that whatever they want to accomplish in life, through faith and hard work and determination, they can.”
But perhaps what Canales’ path truly reveals is that kids need to tether their dreams to reality. That is exactly the position Canales is in now, as the Trail Blazers face the fact that a playoff berth this season is looking like a pretty unlikely and untethered dream. If the home loss to the Utah Jazz on April 2 wasn’t the final nail in the coffin, it was a nail that made the lid quite a bit harder to lift.
“We talked about it as a team and our commitment was to compete and to play,” Canales says of their approach to the rest of the season, playoffs or no playoffs. “That was the commitment that we made to each other. We’re staying in the moment, which is trying to improve and get better each practice, each shoot-around, each game.”
Canales is taking a similar approach to speculation about the likelihood of keeping his head coach position in the long-term. He claims he’s too focused on the moment to even think about his own future.
“It’s not about me,” he insists. “It’s about us as a team and as a family, going forward.”
Even if it’s not about him, and even if the awesomeness of his situation hasn’t entirely sunk in yet —“I really haven’t felt anything since all this has happened” — Canales admits he’s sensed some special moments since being named head coach, such as when his parents recently came to see him lead a couple of Blazer games in person.
Luckily for him, whether he’s a head coach or an assistant or a video coordinator, there is specialness aplenty in his everyday work.
“Any time we can be together as a team, at practice or the games, that’s a special moment for me,” Canales insists. “Every time I walk into the Rose Garden I get goosebumps. I know we’ve got the best fans in the NBA, and we just want to keep working our tails off to make the City of Portland proud.”
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
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