'Toliver Provision' benefits Wizards' Kristi Toliver, opens pipeline for women coaches in NBA

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MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 04:  Assistant coach Kristi Toliver of the Washington Wizards prior to the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on January 4, 2019 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Kristi Toliver will make a fair salary doing her job now. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Kristi Toliver will no longer be paid a fraction of an assistant coach’s salary for her job with the Washington Wizards thanks to a rule named after her in the WNBA’s newly signed collective bargaining agreement.

Toliver, a 2020 WNBA champion with the Washington Mystics, was making $10,000 as an assistant coach with the Wizards. It was one-tenth what the typical assistant coach makes in the role and it was because of competitive fairness rule embedded in the last CBA.

Enter the “Toliver Provision,” which as Ava Wallace reports for the Washington Post is already in use for Toliver and aims for more to join her.

Why Toliver was paid $10,000 to coach

Toliver, a two-time champion, was hired as the Wizards’ assistant coach for player development in October 2018 after serving time as an intern. The point guard called it the “opportunity of a lifetime” as she started focusing on her dream of coaching in her post-playing days.

The Mystics and the Wizards are owned by Ted Leonsis, who last summer combined all of his properties under Monumental Basketball to share services. Since he owned both teams, the WNBA CBA stipulated that her salary be paid through the $50,000 total each team is allowed to pay players for offseason work. The Mystics pay a majority of that to reigning league MVP Elena Delle Donne, who stays home for marketing work rather than play overseas.

What was left was $10,000. Assistants typically make at least $100,000 and Toliver could have made more than $500,000 last offseason playing overseas.

‘Toliver Provision’ already benefitting Mystics star

The issue was important to Terri Jackson, executive director of the players’ union, and commissioner Cathy Engelbert, who began her position in July. Toliver, her agent, Leonsis, and other Monumental representatives helped plead her case, per the Post, and they reached an agreement on how to put it in the CBA.

The “Diversity in Coaching Initiative” section in the CBA, released in full Friday, allows a WNBA team affiliate to hire a player to its coaching or basketball operations staff and pay a “fair market value” as long as certain provisions are met. Players must have at least eight years of experience, including three with their current team; work full-time with the NBA team; and the position shall not be connected to the player contract.

The league doesn’t want teams enticing players by offering NBA jobs, per the Post. But this way the opportunity, specifically for Toliver, is still there.

Jackson jokingly referred to the clause as “the Toliver Provision” in the conference call announcing the CBA deal.

The Wizards said Toliver is now making a “competitive salary to coach” but won’t go into details on her contract due to policy, per the Post.

Pipeline for women coaching in NBA

The rule is specifically designed with Toliver in mind as the inaugural user. But all are hoping it will allow for more women down the road with players chasing their desire to coach while still in the league.

“That’s kind of what it was born out of, really just a thought that we’re proud some former WNBA players are coaching in the professional men’s league,” Engelbert said, via the Washington Post. “We need a pipeline. Just like corporate America needs a pipeline for future executives, we need a pipeline for future coaches. Why not use our platform here as the WNBA to do that?”

Six women were hired in the past NBA offseason to assistant coach positions, totaling 11 overall. There are still obstacles for women, even professional players, to get into the coaching ranks but now a stipulation for low pay in the CBA won’t be one of them.

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