Kaleb Canales is a guy ‘La Raza’ can be proud of

19 03 2012

The Portland Trail Blazers — MY Portland Trail Blazers — have a Mexican American head coach.

Wow!

Portland, Ore., metropolitan area where I was raised, is where Kaleb Canales, the first Mexican American head coach in the NBA, is employed.

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

Who would have thought? Not me, not in this lifetime. I grew up with Jack Ramsay and Mike Schuler and Rick Adelman (whose family goes to my former church back home). I remember when I was a kid and my mom took my sisters and I to the grand opening of the new Fred Meyer store in Beaverton. I wanted Jack Ramsay’s autograph on a day when actress Farrah Fawcett was also there for the opening, I have no idea why. But by the time we got there, Farrah’s limo was leaving with her in it and Dr. Jack was gone, with only a few people wanting his autograph so I guess he cut out early.

Since then the NBA has gotten bigger and richer, and since then, the Blazers have also had P.J. Carlesimo, Mike Dunleavy and Maurice Cheeks as head coaches. Then came maybe the best hire of all, Nate McMillan. At least it was at the time.

Well, McMillan made it almost seven seasons before the Blazers fired him last week. The guy they replaced him with on an interim basis? Canales.

I couldn’t help but get fired up watching this video from the team website.

Before Kaleb, the only big-name Canales I had heard of was Johnny Canales from the Tejano music TV show on Univision (“You got it! Take it away!”).

I guess I could write about how historic and refreshing this is, and it is on many levels. One of us… La Raza… ascending to this height. But the only thing I can think of saying is, the Blazers, known so often for making the wrong decision or being snakebitten by the good choices, simply went with a guy who worked extremely hard to get to where he is, earned the players’ respect and rewarded him with the job of head coach. A groundbreaking but sensible move. Even if it’s only on an interim basis.

I’d be shocked if Canales kept the position beyond this season — the Blazers would somehow have to make the playoffs and probably win the first round, which looks highly unlikely. But he can tell his kids and grandkids that a kid from Laredo, Texas who loved basketball and started out as an unpaid intern with the Blazers lived  the dream and became an NBA head coach. Stood in the huddle and coached up millionaires. Made substitutions and game plans. Strategized. Wore  designer suits on the sidelines. Ran practices. Dealt with the media and the public eye.

How cool is that?

There haven’t been a lot of proud moments as a Blazers fan since the early 90s. Even when the team was loaded with talent the likes of  Scottie Pippen and Rasheed Wallace back in 1999 and 2000, it seemed artificial. Those guys were just highly paid mercenaries who were brought in by a win-at-all-costs GM to win a championship for the owner, and they failed. Fans loved the winning but not the seedy underbelly of a team full of bad-character guys.

Shoot, this team might yet have to rebuild sooner than later. The guys just seemed to quit on former coach McMillan, lacking passion and energy on the court in recent games. Too many home games, where the Rip City crowd always had been a huge advantage, have been dropped.

Change was imminent. Drastic measures were taken.

But there is something to be proud of for me as a lifetime fan of this team, and one of Mexican descent at that: The coach is “one of us.”

You know Canales isn’t going to rest on his laurels. The guy got to where he is by paying his dues and knows the significance or the position he’s in, and he strikes me as one who won’t take it for granted or stop grinding.

Excuse me well I go find my Blazers basketball maracas I got on the somewhat-contrived Latino Night at the Rose Garden several years back. Now I can shake ’em con mas corazon.

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