Kristi Toliver chose to return to Mystics over retirement: ‘I am the DMV’

Toliver chose to return to Mystics over retirement: ‘I am the DMV’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Washington Mystics guard Kristi Toliver has been everywhere.

She’s from Virginia and played college ball at Maryland. Her WNBA career began in Chicago and eventually took her to Los Angeles, where she’d win her first league championship, then to Washington, where she’d win her second.

She’d return to L.A. for two more years, spending her offseason doing nothing much – just working as an assistant coach in the NBA for the Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks. She could’ve let her sneakers gather dust as she had the option to enter into her 14th season as a pro. But she chose to lace ‘em up instead. Why?

“It’s a good question,” Toliver said. “Honestly, I was on the fence.”

Toliver went back to the Sparks after three very fruitful seasons as a Mystic. Her second tenure in L.A. didn’t go as planned, as the COVID pandemic and various injuries contributed to the two worst statistical seasons of her career. She was ready to call it quits.

Her head coach for the championship team in D.C. in 2019, Mike Thibault (who has since shifted to a general manager role with the Mystics while his son Eric has taken over head coaching duties), had a way of convincing Toliver to rejoin the squad.

“We were out with the Mavericks, we were playing the Clippers, and Coach T came and visited. He was out recruiting and we got some brunch, and just had a conversation. And I think throughout the course of that conversation, he definitely pulled me in…I was like, ‘It sounds nice.’”

Mystics rejoice.

Toliver, a three-time All-Star, will play a backup guard role in D.C. this season behind the likes of Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud. Now 36, she was a key component of two title teams in which she averaged over 13 points and shot over 42% from the field in each campaign. Her experience as a veteran will bolster the rest of Washington’s rotation as she’s the team’s oldest player and the only one who has won multiple titles.

“I was on the borderline of retirement,” Toliver said. “But I think there’s no place like home and I definitely wanted to come back to the District, play in front of friends and family again, be in the area. I am the DMV.”

Washington is eager to bounce back into championship contention in the WNBA in 2023. Not a minor factor in that quest is the fact that former two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne is fully healthy for the first time in almost three years and is coming off ‘the best offseason’ of her career.

Toliver couldn’t stay away. Her first game as a Mystic, since she hoisted the championship trophy in 2019, is Friday at home against the New York Liberty. It’ll be more than just a homecoming.

“I think it’s only right to come back and to play with the teammates that I’ve missed for three years,” she said. “Even returning, it’s like they’re grown-ups now. So it’s all gonna be new and different, but I’m looking forward to the challenge and competing for a championship again and being a part of all that.”