Anthony Tolliver has made so many pit stops while working toward a two-year, $16 million contract with the Kings, he can recite the roads most traveled in his sleep. Name an interstate – any freeway within the U.S. and a few in Germany and Turkey – and the reserve forward has been there, done that, seen it all.
Five-star hotels. Budget motels. Bus rides that left his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame aching and longing for more comfortable NBA charter flights.
But here he is at 31, a self-described late bloomer, producing some of the most efficient basketball of his nine-year pro career. He is averaging 7.3 points and 3.7 rebounds, shooting a career-best 45 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range and enjoying a spike in playing time (23 minutes) that is partly attributable to injuries suffered by Rudy Gay, Omri Casspi and Garrett Temple. In the NBA, as Tolliver realizes, one man’s ache is another man’s opportunity.
“I actually feel like I’m shooting the ball as good or better than ever,” he said before the Kings traveled to Los Angeles to play the Lakers on Tuesday night. “I just have a very different mindset these days. I feel like if I miss four or five straight, the next two are going in. I don’t shy away; I just keep shooting.”
While the Kings’ recent 4-2 homestand thrust them back into the conversation for the eighth playoff spot in the wild, wild Western Conference, the Springfield, Mo., native has stroked timely jumpers, defended aggressively and made subtle contributions – tapbacks on rebounds, a pass that leads to an assist, a defensive rotation that bails out a teammate – that often dictate the outcome of games.
Tolliver does not do the following: Dominate the ball. Attempt to go one-on-one. Scream at a point guard who misses him in the short corners. Berate the refs or otherwise lose control of his emotions.
But as it turns out, the engaging, thoughtful Tolliver is more than a stretch forward who can make shots and moderate the temperature in the locker room. There are two sides to every story, and yes, two sides to Anthony Tolliver. When he isn’t playing or practicing, or helping his wife, Jessica, with two toddlers at home, the Creighton graduate tends to his budding business empire.
A math whiz who majored in pre-med before switching to finance to accommodate his basketball goals, he oversees a real estate (Say You Can), athletic apparel (Active Faith) and children’s fishing merchandise company (Kid Casters), an enterprise that sells equipment designed to “introduce kids to the joys of fishing at an early age” and features all the usual suspects: Dora the Explorer. SpongeBob. Hello Kitty. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Tolliver, of course, estimates he has dropped a fishing line in a river maybe once in his life.
“Fishing is not something I do,” he said with a grin, “but I am a businessman. My desire was always to play in the NBA, but I wanted a backup plan in case that didn’t work out. Coming from a family where the head of the household, my mom, was a high school special education teacher, meant that education was always emphasized.”
Tolliver, whose two older sisters each stand a mere 5-foot-5, recalls finishing his homework and rushing out to his driveway, where his late mother, Donna Lewis, a former prep basketball star, tutored him in the fundamentals of ballhandling, shooting and low-post positioning. Simultaneously, she encouraged him to pursue his other passion – a love of math and an interest in becoming a pediatrician – and avoid any rush to judgment regarding his career path.
Until she passed away in 2008, months after Tolliver graduated with honors, he spoke with his mother daily.
“Anthony being the baby, he took her death really hard,” said Leslie Lewis, the eldest of the siblings. “You could just tell. He would talk to her all the time and he was excited, because his (NBA) career was just starting.”
Tolliver, who was undrafted and trying to earn a rookie contract with the Spurs, said he struggled emotionally and never found “a rhythm.” After being cut by the Spurs, he embarked on a pro career that included four months in Germany, four more in Turkey, stops in New Orleans, Portland, Golden State, Minnesota, Atlanta, Charlotte, Phoenix and Detroit, with repeated visits between the D-League and NBA franchises.
Sacramento was never more than a blip on the screen. Tolliver anticipated re-signing with the Pistons for 2017-18, with his role defined as more mentor than on-court contributor, before being contacted by the Kings.
“I knew Ken Catanella (Kings assistant general manager) because he was in Detroit when I was there,” said Tolliver, “and he said the Kings were looking for some good character guys who could play, and they needed shooters. We got the deal done in about two hours.”
So it was off to Golden 1 Center with his wife, toddlers Isaiah and Lennox, and with another child due in two months. While the Tollivers scramble for child care like most families, they have an advantage when it comes to health care. Jessica, who also attended Creighton, earned her physician’s assistant license while Anthony trekked around the world earlier in his career.
Their deal was this: He supported her while she pursued her medical career, and she backed him while he bounced between cities and countries until she became pregnant with their first child. With baby No. 3 on the way, she said, her career has been put on hold. The immediate plan is to continue enjoying their time in Northern California, they both hope, for a longer-than-usual stay.
“I don’t care about points, accolades – any of the stuff most basketball players care about,” Tolliver added, “though in the past, I worried too much about what my coaches thought, what my teammates thought. Now I just want to help us win. Work hard, practice. Do something to become a better player and person every day. That’s who I am.”