As a child, Kristi Toliver dreamed about becoming the first woman to play in the NBA. This week she became a pioneer in the sport a different way.
Toliver has joined the NBA’s Washington Wizards as part of the assistant coach/player development staff, making her the first active WNBA player working as an NBA assistant coach.
“This dream has been a long time coming,” Toliver said Tuesday.
A 10-year WNBA veteran, Toliver joins Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman as women who have coached in the NBA, though neither of those other two were active players when assuming their roles.
“We’re excited about having Kristi with us,” Washington head coach Scott Brooks said. “(Wizards president) Ernie (Grunfeld) and I talked about it quite some time, just adding different perspectives to our staff. She was somebody that I personally have been targeting for a while now.”
Toliver assisted the Wizards’ coaching staff during 2018 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and training camp. She’s a WNBA champion, winning when she played for the Los Angeles Sparks in 2016, and a two-time WNBA All-Star (2013 and 2018).
This past WNBA season, Toliver’s current team, the Washington Mystics, lost in the WNBA finals to the Seattle Storm in September.
In her collegiate career with the University of Maryland, Toliver led the Terrapins to the 2006 national championship.
“I’m blessed to be in the position I am as an active player, and now active assistant coach,” Toliver said. “It’s an honor. It’s something that I’ve worked for and I’ve earned.”
Toliver said she’d rather be playing, but she says that “it’s good to think the game in a different way, from a different point of view.”
“I’m a player first,” she said. “This opportunity just came, and of course I wanted to run with it. But I will 1000% be back playing for the Mystics and trying to get over that hump and get a championship.”
“Opportunity of a lifetime”
Instead of playing overseas, as several WNBA players do during the league’s offseason and Toliver has also done, she elected to give her body a rest. But, she added, she still wanted to keep herself mentally in the game.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Toliver said. “When it came about, I wanted to be involved in whatever capacity that I could.”
Toliver plans to lean on Hammon for coaching advice, and with good reason.
In June, Hammon, who has been coaching with the San Antonio Spurs since 2014, continued her move up the NBA coaching ladder.
She was promoted within the organization, filling the position vacated by James Borrego, who left to become the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets. The move puts Hammon on the front row of coaches alongside head coach Gregg Popovich this season.
“She certainly is a trailblazer and was not only as a coach now but as a player,” Toliver said. “People would ask me who I would compare myself to, and I’ve always said Becky Hammon. I will pick her brain about how she played and I’ll also pick her brain about how she’s coaching.”