Kristi Toliver returns to the Entertainment and Sports Arena for the first time since celebrating the 2019 Washington Mystics championship on Thursday night when her Sparks travel to D.C.
For Toliver, it's not just returning to a team where she played a huge role in winning the franchise's first title. The D.C. Metro area is home for the 34-year-old point guard. She went to high school in Harrisonburg, Va. before playing collegiately at the University of Maryland.
Coming to the Mystics after winning her first championship 2016 with Los Angeles was a full circle transformation. Additionally, she grew her roots further by becoming an assistant for the local NBA team - the Washington Wizards - for several seasons.
"It's great to be back. I love this area. Family, friends are all here so it's been good to reconnect with all of them," Toliver said.
As an instrumental leader for three years in Washington, Toliver was the key piece that brought a championship pedigree to the roster. The Mystics had talent with a former MVP in Elena Delle Donne as well as Natasha Cloud and Emma Meesseman. Toliver taught the team how to act and hold themselves accountable as champions en route to winning it all in 2019.
After the championship, Toliver left in free agency, going back to her former team after Washington did not offer her the money she felt she deserved. Since she did not play in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic-affected season, this is the first time she's played against Washington.
Still, Toliver regards the Mystics championship as the proudest moment in her career. There was a close knit bond amongst the team and Toliver is excited to see several of those faces again.
"The emotions will be there," Toliver said. "But I'm extremely happy here, I'm extremely comfortable here so I really look forward to seeing my old teammates, competing against them. Certainly, it will be difficult, it's not going to be easy, but I'm just happy to be back in this building and see some fans and see friends and family and just be back in this environment. I'm really looking forward to it."
Tune in Thursday at 7:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington as the Mystics host the Sparks.