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'New York Times' Reports NBA Assistant Kristi Toliver Is Paid Like An Intern

Jan 3, 2019
Originally published on January 4, 2019 8:17 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

When Kristi Toliver was hired as an assistant coach by the Washington Wizards, she was just 1 of 3 active women coaches in the NBA. Coaching was a career goal for Toliver. She's also a WNBA star. She plays point guard for the Washington Mystics. But a problem emerged. If she wanted to coach in the NBA, she'd need to accept a tiny salary - $10,000 a year. Now, NBA assistant coaches typically make $100,000 a year or more. Some make over a million.

Howard Megdal broke this story for The New York Times. He's with me via Skype to explain why it is that a talented female coach is earning peanuts coaching men in the NBA. Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Good morning.

KING: So Kristi Toliver is a player and a coach. As a player, she makes a normal WNBA salary. As a coach, she's earning next to nothing - $10,000 a year. How did that happen?

MEGDAL: Well, it happened, in part, because progress has exceeded what the collective bargaining agreement between the players and the WNBA allow for. So the last collective bargaining agreement called for players to be able to be paid up to $50,000 as a team for offseason work. Now, that offseason work, by definition, did not include coaching because at that time, there were not coaches who were WNBA players.

So she came up against a very simple issue, which is that $50,000 was the max that could be paid to all the players for offseason work, and 40,000 of that had already been promised to her Mystics teammate Elena Delle Donne.

KING: So we've got a talented woman coach, and she can't make more than $10,000 a year. Did Kristi Toliver or the Wizards try to fight this? Because, as you lay out in your story, it is really galling. It just seems wildly unfair.

MEGDAL: And that is precisely it. It is galling and unfair. And, yes, they both tried to fight it. And the Wizards, to their credit, tried to do so as well.

KING: In your piece, you spoke to Kristi Toliver, and she seemed frustrated, but she also seemed pretty optimistic. What was your impression of her as a player, as a coach, as a person?

MEGDAL: I've covered Kristi for a long time. She's one of the brightest people that you're going to meet in any profession. So I wasn't surprised about it. I also think there's been an ethos in women's basketball, and really women's sports as a whole, that there's an effort to trailblaze today so that tomorrow's battles are a little bit easier to fight or don't even have to be fought at all. And I think that may play a part in it.

KING: Even though Kristi Toliver is only one person in this situation, this is likely to come up in a new contract negotiation - that this is a very unfair set of circumstances?

MEGDAL: It will definitely come up. The players association is very committed to this. And for the league, it's an opportunity to have a significant number of talented basketball minds coach, as well. So it's an extra influx of talent. So it really is something that both sides have a financial interest in getting solved.

KING: Could this have happened with a male player who also wanted to coach? Say you've got a talented point guard, and he says, in the offseason, I want to coach a women's team. Would he be in the same situation, where there is a cap on how much he could be paid as a coach?

MEGDAL: The short answer is nothing like that would occur. The cap is much higher than $50,000 on the men's side. The money is significantly different as a whole in the NBA. And as a result, it simply wouldn't be something that would be punitive for an NBA player who is tempted to do that.

KING: Howard Megdal is the editor of High Post Hoops, which is a site dedicated to women's basketball, and he broke this story about Kristi Toliver in The New York Times. Thanks, Howard.

MEGDAL: Thank you.

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