Karl Tilleman: Mormon Athlete
Karl Tilleman is a retired Olympic basketball player who played for the Canadian Olympic basketball team during the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, California (placed fourth), and the 1988 Olympics held in Seoul, Korea (placed sixth). He fondly remembers having the chance to play against NBA star Michael Jordan. He holds the Olympic record for the most three-point baskets in a single game, hitting ten of sixteen three-point shots, and scoring 21 points in a row for Canada, in a game against Spain during the Seoul Games. His record has been tied twice.
As a young man, Tilleman served as a full-time missionary in the California Arcadia Mission in between his particpation in the two Olympic Games.
Tilleman was born on November 1, 1960, in Ogden, Utah, and moved to Canada when his father began a teaching position at the University of Calgary. He played basketball for the University of Calgary. His team took gold at the World Student Games held in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in 1983—Canada’s only international gold medal in men’s basketball. Tilleman holds numerous Canadian basketball awards (Canada West Player of the Year and All Star in 1981, 1982, 1983, as well as Calgary Male Athlete of the Year 1981 and 1983). He was inducted into the University of Calgary’s Hall of Fame and had his jersey retired by the university. He was also inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame. He was drafted by the Denver Nuggets as their second pick and was picked 79th overall. His professional career was short-lived: recovering from the flu, he played in a pre-season game but twisted his ankle when he stepped on another player’s foot and was cut from the team.
He earned a law degree from Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School (summa cum laude with highest distinction and with the Order of the Coif and was editor in chief of the Law Review) and clerked for former Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justice Clarence Thomas. He became a partner and head of the complex litigation department of the firm Steptoe and Johnson in Phoenix, Arizona. He was interviewed by the White House for an appointment as a Federal Court Judge, but declined the offer after realizing the position would considerably alter his priorities.
Tilleman and his wife, Holly Benson Walker Tilleman, served together in the Vancouver British Columbia Mission where he presided over the mission. While serving, he was seriously injured in a dog attack and consequently went into shock and fell, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Despite his bleak prognosis, he was given a priesthood blessing that promised him a full recovery at an accelerated rate. With accompanying fasting and prayers from friends, family, missionaries, and ward members, he was hospitalized for only 17 days, and the paralysis began to leave him and he was able to complete his three-year service.
In April 2015, Tilleman was sustained as an Area Seventy and served in the North America Southwest Area. He and his wife are the parents of five children.