Like a lot of young basketball fans, Carson Calkins grew up dreaming of winning the NBA Finals and hoisting the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Unlike most basketball fans, he realized that dream with the San Antonio Spurs this past season.
The son of a Comcast Sportsnet Houston reporter, the 2013 MU graduate grew up going to Houston Rockets games and played basketball from a very early age.
Keith Calkins’ line of work didn’t just spark his son's interest in basketball. After graduating from MU, Calkins was put in touch with Spurs head trainer Anthony Falsone by his father, who became close friends with Falsone during the trainer’s tenure with the Rockets from 1996-2006.
Falsone offered Calkins an internship in the Spurs’ strength and conditioning department, where he had the opportunity to work directly with Spurs players in their day-to-day workouts.
“When Carson first indicated he was interested in pursuing strength and conditioning and athletic performance in a team environment, Anthony was immediately the first contact who came to mind,” Keith Calkins said in an email. “Not just because of his obvious experience working with world-class athletes, NBA titles with the Rockets ... More importantly because of his integrity. (Falsone is an) absolute pro — perfect mentoring presence. He would not tell Carson what he wanted to hear but rather what he needed to know.”
Calkins recalled times when players would eat next to him at lunch, but said that while those were cool experiences, he ultimately worked past getting star-struck very quickly. Rather, those times made him realize how far he’s come so quickly.
“During the season you get caught up in the day-to-day grind so it doesn’t really hit you, but I definitely stopped a few times during the year and thought ‘Wow, this is the Spurs,’” Calkins said. “People asked what I did and I got to say I was working with one of the best teams in the NBA.”
In high school, Calkins played basketball and had an interest in potentially pursuing sports journalism, but ultimately switched his interests when he was looking at colleges his senior year.
“I wanted to work more directly with athletes,” Calkins said. “I wanted to be more on the inside, which is (something I couldn’t do in journalism). I wanted to have more of a direct influence on how athletes play, and I still wanted to be (involved) with that competitive team aspect. I’m a very competitive person and it was a way to help channel that.”
Calkins said he received offers to play basketball for multiple Division III programs at the collegiate level, but opted to go to Missouri instead to pursue his passion for strength and conditioning coaching.
“I could’ve played at some small DIII schools,” Calkins said. “But I wanted to work with a big-time DI program (in strength and conditioning). When I visited Missouri, I went and visited (then-men's basketball strength and conditioning coach) David Deets and told him what I was interested in. He showed me what it was like on the inside.”
Calkins joined the training staff after he enrolled at Mizzou. When then-men's basketball coach Mike Anderson left for Arkansas, he took Deets with him, leaving Calkins to run the team’s conditioning drills while a replacement was found.
“It was a very eye-opening experience,” Calkins said. “I felt that at the time I wasn’t being the best coach I could be. I was always afraid to be outspoken. But (in that situation), I had players looking to me, strength coaches — guys who are (much) more experienced than I — looking to me and asking what the workout is. So I had to step up to the plate.”
While those two weeks were perhaps the highlight of Calkins’ time as a strength coach at Mizzou, he also spent time working with the football team, women’s basketball team and women’s soccer team.
“Being around guys (at Mizzou) who were considered ‘big time’ every day, that definitely helped with making being around the guys on the Spurs no big deal,” Calkins said. “When (Spurs starting point guard) Tony Parker comes in and says ‘I want to lift,’ it’s not, ‘Oh my god it’s Tony Parker,’ it’s ‘OK Tony, let’s go do something.’”
After experiencing an 82-game season and an eventful playoff run, Calkins found himself on the winning side of the Spurs’ 4-1 series win over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, and capped off his internship with a champagne celebration in the locker room. Keith Calkins called it an experience for his son that is “genuinely once in a lifetime.”
“That phrase gets tossed around too freely,” Keith Calkins said. “Here is where it truly applies.”
Carson Calkins just feels special having held the trophy.
“You think about how many guys have played in the league and tried to earn the right to hold the trophy — Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Steve Nash — who were tremendous players but never (won a championship),” Calkins said. “You put in so much work, and guys like that didn’t get it, but then how lucky I was in my first year to say that I held the same trophy as guys like Kobe (Bryant) and Michael (Jordan).
“If you’re a basketball fan, you can’t help but be in awe of that.”