Jose Calderon cares about UNICEF and helping others, not trade talk

Knicks point guard Jose Calderon is an ambassador for UNICEF, a foundation dedicated to assisting children and mothers in developing countries. Elsa/Getty Images

If you asked him about it, New York Knicks point guard Jose Calderon would probably shrug off the latest report that suggests he’s on the trading block.

Calderon, a 10-year veteran, knows dealing with trade speculation is part of life as a professional athlete. He’s said several times over the past year that “you’re only a phone call away” from changing your work address in the NBA.

That kind of "c’est la vie" attitude might be the product of Calderon’s name popping up in trade rumors often over the past 12 months. But it also suggests Calderon isn’t confined by life in the NBA bubble.

Case in point: Off the court and away from the trade rumors, the 34-year-old Calderon has dedicated himself to something much bigger than basketball. The point guard works extensively with UNICEF, the United Nations foundation dedicated to assisting children and mothers in developing countries.

Calderon has been named as an ambassador for the organization, one of several NBA players bestowed with that honor. He’s spent time raising funds and awareness for the foundation, and he’s also traveled on its behalf to Zambia, Serbia, Niger and other locales to participate in programs dedicated to helping local communities. (For photos of Calderon's trips, click here and here.)

Calderon recently discussed his involvement with UNICEF and the impact he hopes to make when he’s done playing:

One of your trips with UNICEF was to Zambia, where you helped build latrines to improve water quality. What did you take away from your time there?

Jose Calderon: Zambia was tough because it was my first trip. We were trying to get latrines to everybody. Trying to (teach everyone) how important latrines are for hygiene. Just to go wash your hands instead of eating without washing hands or going to the bathroom (in the latrine instead of) outside of the village. So we started by visiting some of the villages. Training everybody to start doing that, and they realized when you do that, there are less infections, less diseases. Babies are healthier. So it’s step by step.

We also built some mills so the kids didn’t have to go five kilometers to get water. They could go to that mill (for water). If they don’t have to walk (five kilometers for water), they can go to school in that time. So we were helping with the schools, building water (mills), we were letting them know how latrines work. ... (Now) hopefully everything is cleaner and it’s easier for them to understand what to do. You try to teach them how to create an environment for the kids. The kids have to go to school, that’s how the country is going to improve. It’s step by step, but it’s working.

Why are projects like the one you assisted with in Zambia important to you?

JC: I love it because I love to help people. Also, because me being there with somebody maybe recording what we’re doing, maybe it gets a lot of people saying, ‘If Jose does it, why can’t we? Let’s try to do that.’ It happened in Spain a few years ago. People were a little scared to donate because they weren’t sure where the money was. There were a lot of people maybe scamming money from organizations. But I was there and I know where the money is, I know what we’re building, how we’re building it. Maybe me being there and saying, ‘Hey, this is for real, we have the schools, we have the tables, we have the water, we have everything for the kids.’ Maybe that helped. When I made those field trips and people saw how we’re really doing stuff, how the money goes to making schools, to make the people not have to walk five kilometers to grab water -- people maybe realized this is a good thing.

Do you hope to get other NBA players involved?

JC: I always try to tell the new guys about it. I don’t think you realize until you’re there and you see kids’ faces, the families who really appreciate what you’re doing, that you can make an impact. You have dinner for people who might not be able to afford those dinners. It looks like something small, but you’re really doing a lot. From our position, we can help a lot of people with little things, it can make a big difference. That’s what I encourage everyone to do. It doesn’t mean you have to donate money, or spend a lot of your time. But you can do little things to help.

Do you hope to continue this after retirement?

JC: Yes, I’ll have more time to do this. To work on more situations, to get more people involved. ... It’s so important. I would like to just continue to build. Sometimes with our schedule, it’s impossible to go to some places, so if there’s an emergency, there’s nothing we can do about it. But when I stop basketball, I would like to have a little bit more of an active role in this situation. Everybody needs stuff. Everybody has different issues. You just have to work through everything and try to get people involved. The more people involved, the easier it is.