Tolivers Share a Basketball Bond

Kristi Toliver has been perfecting her jump shot since she was two years old. Seriously.

She wasn�t just playing around, heaving the ball toward the basket any way she could get it there; she actually had a fundamentally sound shooting motion.

No, she was not born with a basketball attached to her hand and the gift of proper shooting technique instilled in her genetic code.

The Chicago Sky rookie had to put in the work and with the help of her father, George � who spent over a decade as an NBA referee and currently works as the supervisor of officials for the NBA Development League � she got started early.

It all began with a Dr. J mini hoop that George Toliver bought at K-Mart and set up in the basement of their home when his daughter was just two years old. That is where the lessons began.

�I took the basketball away and gave her tennis balls because I wanted her to learn the proper form in shooting which essentially begins with a solid base and with a follow through,� he said. �And with the tennis ball she was able to do just one handed shooting motions and I had probably 100 tennis balls and we would just shoot and play games.�

The basement practice sessions went beyond shooting drills as George and Kristi Toliver would work on her ball-handling skills as well. She started with mini basketballs and would dribble around the house with her head up, never looking down at the ball.

�When she was two years old she would handle a basketball and dribble a basketball and just had an absolute gleam and smile and showed a passion and a focus of enjoyment about the game,� George Toliver said. �Basketball was the sport that brought the big, bright smile to her face and she really enjoyed watching it and participating in it.�

On top of the drills, the father and daughter also watched game film together at the house. When George would return from a road trip as an NBA official, he would watch video tapes of his games so he could assess his work. With Kristi sitting on his lap, he took the opportunity to show her a few things as well.

�I would always point out to her � even at a very young age � to watch certain things that players did,� he said. �She was a Michael Jordan fan, but I would say, �Now in this video here, watch Reggie Miller and watch how he runs without the ball.� I just showed her different things in terms of not being one dimensional as a player.�

George Toliver spent over a decade as an NBA official.
Gary Bassing/NBAE/Getty Images

Her father�s job as an NBA referee exposed Kristi to the world of professional basketball at an early age and put her in places and situations that other kids could only dream of.

She recalls attending countless Washington Bullets games, seeing Dream Team II (the 1996 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team) practice in Charlotte, going to the NBA All-Star Game in Utah and even traveling to Tokyo to watch a Portland Trailblazers game. At the Dream Team practice, she wasn�t just a kid watching in the stands, she was on the court, shooting around with some of the best players in the world.

�I played two-on-one � my sister and I � against Kevin Johnson, who was one of my favorite players growing up,� she said. �After that we kind of became pen pals for a while and stayed in touch. There are just a lot of real special things that I�ve been able to be a part of because of what he does.�

As Kristi grew up, her joy and passion for the game never wavered and neither did the lessons from her father. George Toliver recalls a conversation that they had when he asked his daughter what she wanted to do when she grew up.

�At that time she wanted to play in the NBA because there was no WNBA and I said �Well if that is what you want to do, then here is the action plan of what you need to do in order to reach that goal,� said George Toliver.

They sat down and talked about practicing � how to do it, when to do it and what drills to do. Each day her father would leave a list of drills on the refrigerator door for Kristi to complete when she got home from school.

�A great reason why I�m so fundamentally sound is because he would write up different ball-handling drills, different shooting drills that I would do every day and he would put it on the refrigerator and the refrigerator was right in front of the door that leads to the side basket,� Kristi Toliver said. �So I would just take a look at it, go do it, but it was something that I always enjoyed doing. I�ve definitely benefitted from that. Not only having stuff that we would do in practice at school, but coming home and being able to really get in extra work and I was always about putting in extra work to get better.�

As involved as he was with his daughter�s development as a basketball player � he would coach Kristi in middle school and various AAU teams � George Toliver made sure never to cross the line between coach and parent. He said he set strict parameters and put the pressure on himself to never do anything that could cause harm to their father/daughter relationship.

�I�ve been lucky because of the way he�s handled it,� Kristi Toliver said. �I think for me I always saw him in a lot of different ways � I saw him as my dad, I saw him as my friend, I saw him as my teacher � and he was able to fill those roles as they should. When it was time for him to be a dad, he was; when it was time for him to be a friend, he was; when it was time for him to be my coach and my teacher, he was. I just had a lot of balance growing up as far as that goes and he was great at all of them.�

George Toliver believes it was basketball that helped he and Kristi move beyond having just a father/daughter relationship, and was key to building a friendship that he is enjoying more and more as his daughter has become an adult.

�I�m still the parent because you have the interests of your child at heart,� he said. �But I�m really enjoying being the friend; where we can talk about basketball sometimes and we talk about other things, we spend time together, have dinner together and those kinds of things.

�Sometimes people have a mindset where the kids grow up and they grow apart; they get them out of the house and they go their separate ways. It�s really nice that we have a relationship where as she�s grown up we�ve actually grown closer together in another way.�

With his daughter achieving her goal of becoming a professional basketball player, George Toliver looks back at the work they did together while Kristi was growing up and knows it was all worthwhile.

�I am very proud of her and what she�s accomplished,� he said. �As a matter of fact, on draft day when she was drafted, what I told her was �This is what all of the hard work was for. You�ve finally gotten there, but there�s more work to be done.�

�As a parent, I know how much sacrifice it took; how many hours, when other kids were out doing other social things and Kristi was putting in her basketball time, because this was her dream.�

With her dream realized and her rookie season in the WNBA underway, Kristi Toliver knows that she could not have done it alone and understands how important of a role her father played in her development not only as a person but as a basketball player.

�We�ve always had a healthy relationship and always had a bond when it came to basketball,� she said. �He�s the one that taught me the game and really introduced me to what I found to be my passion and what I would excel at the most. So I�m extremely lucky and thankful for him and all that he�s done for me and the opportunities that he�s helped give to me.�