I've had a few questions about Kaleb Canales, the Portland Trail Blazers' new interim coach. I assume you've got the basics: former video coordinator, puts in extra work, gets named an assistant coach, puts in even more work with players, coaches Summer League, now named Portland's interim head coach. He's well-liked, well-respected, and for good reason.
The main story I have is one I've shared once before, but not for a long time. Way back in the day this site received its first ever official credentials for the NBA's Las Vegas Summer League. So I drove down to Vegas, laptop and legal pad in hand, to cover the Blazers and the league. I watched a couple games then headed over to my first ever Trail Blazers practice. Now this was before online journalists were recognized as "real" media members, long before you could swing a cat in Vegas and hit six bloggers on the nose like you can nowadays. Blazersedge was big and respected enough to get credentials, obviously, but we weren't anywhere near the 850-pound gorilla we are today. In short, the only people who knew me were a couple other media guys. Certainly nobody from the on-court side of the organization would recognize me on sight.
Status being somewhat important among NBA folks (and assorted hangers-on, including many media folk) nobody will talk to you if they don't already know you. After all, you wouldn't want to get embarrassed being seen with somebody not important. In such circles the signs you have made it are simple: a nod or a handshake. If somebody shakes your hand or gives you the "what's up" nod you can go anywhere, talk to anyone outside of, say, Jordan or Bird. But you're not going to get that unless you're with somebody who already gets it so they know you're cool. Thus some people strut into NBA gatherings like peacocks, conspicuously stopping to shake hands and shoot the breeze with every name-brand player or coach they see just so you'll know, you know? (An ESPN media guy or two come to mind here.) Other people slink into these places with heads down, hoping that nobody sees them and tries to toss them out even if they have plastic around their necks. Badges only get you in. You need a greeting to get you in.
So here I am, walking into my very first practice and knowing nobody. I see where media-types are sitting and I head over in the general direction, slowly. Then down the court comes this guy in slacks and a Blazer polo, a ball tucked under his arm. He looks at me, this new dude, and without guile or pretension says, "Hey. How are you?" I smile back and say, "Fine, thanks!" Then I head on over to the media huddle. He didn't know me. He had no idea who I was. Still, I got my greeting...not that phony, clique-type nod but a genuine hello from a guy who looked happy just making people feel welcome and at home. It was so anti-culture, anti-NBA-normal that I could hardly believe it. I had to look twice to make sure the guy was wearing the right clothes and wasn't just a random guy. He was, and he wasn't. It was a natural, unaffected welcome from a legit NBA fellow.
Yup. Kaleb Canales.
Kaleb has heard that story since and though he doesn't doubt the veracity, he's said that he doesn't remember the particular moment. That's to his credit. That probably means that he wasn't making a special effort...that he's that way with everybody. Heck, I'm still not sure he'd know me on sight. But I bet I'd still get the hello. His character has been borne out since too in other ways. This is a quality, quality guy.
It takes more than character and generosity to be a head coach. Tough decisions, being a boss and not a friend, a certain amount of arrogance and coldness and chutzpah...all of these go with the territory. Nevertheless, even if he's just a nice guy the Blazers could use some of that Canales comportment and community after the events of the past couple months. He's an interim, but these players should probably be nice to him anyway. If not, I'm pretty sure that's on them. In fact how you respond to Mr. Canales might be a decent litmus test for your priorities and personality both. Liking and working hard for this guy should be easy even if you know it's not forever.
We'll be watching.