Karl Tilleman, a leading litigation partner with the Dentons law-firm, is a retired Olympic athlete, who suffered a devastating spinal-cord injury that almost cost him his life while serving as a missionary for his Church in Vancouver, Canada in 2012. The article below details Mr. Tilleman’s athletic history and his induction into several Canadian athletic halls of fame.
Stop by the University of Calgary and ask any student there who they think the best athlete ever to represent their University, and they’ll surely tell you, Karl Tilleman. After a long and successful college career with the University of Calgary and on the Canadian Olympic basketball team, Tilleman had his jersey retired by the University immediately after his playing career ended in 1984. A decade later, in 1995, Tilleman returned to his Alma Mater to accept his place in the University of Calgary’s Hall of Fame. In 2007 Tilleman had the unique honor of being named the University of Calgary’s greatest athlete of all time, receiving five times more votes than the closest runner-up in an online poll. In 2020, Tilleman was inducted into the Canada West Hall of Fame, the conference in which he competed as a University player.
Although Tilleman is less well-known than the likes of the NBA’s Michael Jordan, Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant, he’s likely the greatest three-point shooter in Canadian basketball history, and he has a strong case as the best three-point shooter in the history of the Olympic games. To this day, Tilleman maintains the Olympic record for three-point shots in a single game (10), which he scored in the 1988 Olympics against a tough Spanish team that had just won the Silver medal in the prior 1984 Olympics. Tilleman’s Olympic record has stood for 34 years. The following article takes a look back on Karl Tilleman’s career and discusses how he became one of the best Canadian b-ballers in history.
From Record-Breaking Student Athlete to Denver Nugget and Two-Time Olympian
Karl Tilleman was born in Ogden, Utah in 1960 before moving to Canada, where his father had secured a teaching position at the University of Calgary. As a kid, Karl loved to spend as much time as possible out on the basketball court. As he grew older, he became a star on his high school basketball team (Sir Winston Churchill) in Calgary and was heavily recruited by his home-town university the University of Calgary Dinos, along with other universities. Tilleman chose to attend the University of Calgary and the rest is history.
During his five seasons with the Dinos, Tilleman’s bombastic shooting skills and incredible range helped the team compete as one of the top programs in Canada. Tilleman soon came to the attention of Canada’s Men’s basketball coach, Jack Donahue, and in 1981, Tilleman began to compete for Canada on the international stage. Tilleman thrived playing for Donohue and representing Canada. For example, in the 1983 Pan-American Games, Tilleman went toe-to-toe with Michael Jordan, and Tilleman notched 28 points against the greatest of all time, keeping the game tight right through the last few minutes.
After graduating from the University of Calgary, Tilleman was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1984, but had a tough try-out with a seriously sprained ankle. The Nuggets eventually released Tilleman. This short setback wasn’t enough to keep Karl off the courts though, as he soon made his way back onto the Canadian Olympic team in 1986 after serving his first full-time mission for his Church in 1985-86.
In both the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics, Tilleman maintained the most points scored per minute of any Canadian player and he set the record for the most three-pointers in an Olympic game. (ten). In that remarkable game in 1988, Tilleman also scored 21 points in a row in the second half when Tilleman was the only Canadian player to score for the first 15 minutes of that half. His record has yet to be broken, although it has been matched a couple of times, first by the great Oscar Schmidt of Brazil (in 1996), and then by Carmelo Anthony of the USA (in 2012.) After Anthony tied Tilleman’s record in 2012, seasoned NBA reporter Scott Rafferty called Anthony’s performance (against Nigeria) “one of the greatest we’ve ever seen in the Olympics.”
Karl Tilleman’s Post-Basketball Career
After setting several Canadian basketball records, Karl Tilleman put the courts behind him and shifted focus to a law degree at Brigham Young University in his home state of Utah. Since completing his studies, he has worked as an antitrust, RICO, complex contract, and intellectual property attorney for some of the most prestigious clients in the world, including at his current firm, Dentons, the largest in the world. At one point early in his career, Tilleman even clerked under Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justice Clarence Thomas at the United States Supreme Court.
He was once approached by the White House to become a Federal-Court Judge, however, he turned down the position to focus on his priorities of faith and family. Today, he is the proud father of five children and a grandfather to eight granddaughters and one grandson (with another on the way)!. Basketball continues to run through the family, though, as his son, Dan Tilleman, also played with his father’s old team—the Dinos.
Karl Tilleman’s Career Has Now Been Celebrated and Codified
In recognition of his contribution to Canadian basketball, the University of Calgary held a poll asking students and alumni to pick the top athletes in university history. In a landslide result, Tilleman came out on top with more than 5x as many votes as his closest runner-up. In other words, Karl Tilleman was chosen as the No. 1 athlete for the University of Calgary out of tens of thousands of great athletes who had competed for the University at that point. He has also been welcomed into the Canada West Hall of Fame and the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.
These awards are a testament to Tilleman’s skill on the court but, more importantly, they recognize the legacy that he has left behind. He has inspired a new generation of Canadian athletes, who see him as a role model to look up to, both on and off the court.
And, although he no longer plays competitively, Karl Tilleman’s skills are still on display whenever he picks up a ball. He regularly joins in on family games of HORSE and, according to those who have played with him, he still has the magic touch, and his competitive spirit.
Karl Tilleman is the best athlete in Calgary Dino history and one of the greatest Canadian basketball players of all time. His shooting skills are unrivaled and, although he hasn’t played competitively for several years, it is said he can still shoot with the best of them. If you’re ever in Calgary, be sure to swing by the University of Calgary and check out the Karl Tilleman exhibit in the University’s Hall of fame or in the Canada West Hall of Fame.