"It was a production decision, and we wish him well," ESPN spokesperson Nate Smeltz said. "We continue to have a deep roster contributing to our NBA coverage."
Tolbert said he asked for a reason why he wasn't retained but never could get an answer.
"Maybe they weren't happy with me from my plaid-suit wearing days," Tolbert said. "I don't know what happened. When you look around, in all sports, they're always looking for a big name, which is something I'm not. People sometimes draw more validity from you if you were a great player."
Tolbert, a backup player during most of his seven-year NBA career, said he wasn't necessarily surprised by ESPN's decision because his role had diminished in recent years. After doing about 50 games in his first season in 2002-03, he said he worked only about 15 last year.
"It's funny to me because ultimately how you say it and what you know should count for something," Tolbert said. "You look around and you see some big names on TV, but they can barely speak. And some guys couldn't be funny if you shot them up with Will Farrell's DNA. People are just attracted to the guys who were great players."
Tolbert said he isn't losing any sleep over his ouster from ESPN. While he said he still enjoyed doing games, the travel could be grueling, and it forced him to be away from his family a few days each week. He said he's not in a rush to find other television work anytime soon.
"I still get to talk sports every day," said Tolbert, who co-hosts "The Razor and Mr. T" show with Ralph Barbieri from 3-7 p.m. "I loved to do the games, but it's not something I feel I need to do."
A RADIO BOND: Perhaps nobody could appreciate the radio call of the final play between Trinity University and Millsaps College on Saturday more than Cal play-by-play announcer Joe Starkey.
Trinity beat Millsaps in a Division III football game on a final play that included 15 laterals. The play has been played over and over on ESPN and has over 350,000 views on YouTube. The voice behind the play is Jonathan Wiener, a student broadcaster at Trinity. Amazingly, he was able to correctly identify almost every player who touched the ball during the play. That's something Starkey admits he couldn't do when he called "The Play" in the 1982 Big Game.
"It looked like he stayed with it really well in terms of calling everybody by the right name, which is something I didn't do," Starkey said. "I hope he is as proud of it over the years as I am of mine, where I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. For selfish reasons, I'm glad there was no band and no trombone player."
THE CLICKER: Former Cal quarterback Steve Levy will make his radio debut Saturday when he takes over late in the game as a sideline reporter for the Bears' game against Washington State. Starkey will leave the broadcast at around 9:30 p.m. (kickoff is at 7 p.m.) to catch a red-eye flight for Atlanta, where the 49ers play Sunday. Usual sideline reporter Todd McKim will move upstairs to take over for Starkey. ... ESPN announced it has added Saturday's game between No. 4 Arizona State and No. 5 Oregon to its schedule. The game originally was going to be only on Fox Sports Net in Oregon, Arizona and Southern California.
Contact Jonathan Okanes at firstname.lastname@example.org.