Portland, OR PORTLAND — Anthony Tolliver remembers Christmas as being the best day of the year, every year.
As a child, Tolliver enjoyed the annual holiday more than his birthday. He woke up early, raised his mother and brothers from their slumber, and headed straight for the family Christmas tree. There he found a multitude of presents, wrapped and waiting to be opened. And then the real Christmas morning magic began.
“It was awesome,” said the 6-foot-9, 243-pound Portland Trail Blazers forward. “That’s a great feeling. And that’s the type of feeling I want to help someone else have.”
Tolliver is doing just that this Christmas. And he is spreading the holiday magic around in what one Blazers representative described as a completely “organic” and inspiring effort.
Working with the Blazers and Big Brothers Big Sisters, Tolliver is sponsoring Lisa Hill and her two children, 15-year-old Darius and 10-year-old Marquisha.
Hill is a single-parent mother living in outer Northeast Portland. She struggles with health issues and is unemployed. As a result, Hill said the holidays are usually hard for her family.
But things will be different this year, thanks to Tolliver.
“I never dreamed that we would be adopted for Christmas,” Hill said. “It totally took us by surprise.”
Eight days ago, the 24-year-old Tolliver was watching the ink dry on a non-guaranteed contract, having been suddenly called up via a hardship exemption by the injury-plagued Blazers from the NBA Developmental League’s Idaho Stampede.
Today, Tolliver is expected to join the Hill family at the Rose Garden before the Blazers (19-12) take on the Denver Nuggets (20-9) at 7:30 p.m. in a nationally televised game.
This is not the first time Tolliver has reached out, though. He sponsored three families while playing for the San Antonio Spurs last season.
But this year is different. Tolliver will meet the Hills and exchange presents with them before tipoff. And while he stated that he was too busy to do the shopping himself — “I still need to do my own,” Tolliver said, laughing — he has taken an active role in the process.
However, Tolliver stated that he is not helping out for promotion or publicity. He simply does it because it feels right.
And even though Tolliver’s time with the Blazers is expected to be temporary — he will likely return to the D-League when injured forward Rudy Fernandez returns in January — he still feels fortunate to have made it this far in the NBA.
“It’s just something that I’ve wanted to do,” Tolliver said. “Something told me this is something I should do every year.”
He added: “When much is given, much is expected.”
Kristen Potts, office manager of the Columbia Northwest Division BBBS, said she starts receiving phone calls in late November from families asking for help during the holidays. Normally, Potts refers callers to outside resources better suited to address their needs.
But when Potts was informed that Tolliver wanted to help out this year, she knew the Hill family was the perfect choice.
Tolliver is expected to provide the Hills with much-needed clothing items such as coats, gloves and shoes. In addition, the Hills will likely receive gift cards to a regional supermarket store, which will allow them to purchase groceries and cleaning supplies.
“We asked them what they wanted, and they said very basic things are hard to come by,” Potts said. “They weren’t asking for a lot.”
But Potts followed up, encouraging Hill to ask for something her children could enjoy. Now, Tolliver-provided iPods should be on their way.
“God was good to us this year,” Hill said.
Tolliver is not the only Blazer displaying Christmas spirit this year, though.
Hersey Hawkins, Portland director of player development, is also sponsoring a family through BBBS.
Hawkins said this marks the fourth consecutive year he has reached out a helping hand during the holidays. Originally, the former sharpshooter for the Philadelphia 76ers and Seattle Supersonics wanted to teach his three children a lesson about sacrifice and selflessness.
“I wanted to show them that everything is not about (them),” Hawkins said. “You’ve got to give back.”
Now, Hawkins’ children have grown. But the former Bradley University standout said he is proud to continue the tradition.
“It’s something that we look forward to doing every year,” Hawkins said.
Meanwhile, the Hills are not the only ones feeling warmer and more loved on Christmas.
Tolliver said he has already found a new home with the Blazers.
Despite only playing four minutes and not scoring a point in three games since he was added to the team Dec. 17, Tolliver stated that he already feels like he belongs in black and red.
“It’s crazy, man,” Tolliver said. “It’s crazy how quickly you get close to people and become part of a team.”
He described Portland as a focused, driven squad where everyone is equal. And he stated that watching his new teammates persevere through major injuries and come out on the winning side has made for an inspiring first week back in the NBA.
“I feel like I’m a part of this,” Tolliver said.