Elena Delle Donne has done it all in the world of basketball.
She won state championships at Ursuline Academy. She carried the University of Delaware to national prominence. She was rookie of the year in the WNBA and then its MVP. She won an Olympics gold medal and now, most recently, she won another WNBA MVP award. And last week she finally won the one thing that had eluded her — an WNBA championship.
But the one thing Delle Donne hasn’t had is a healthy body, and even though she’s at the top of her profession right now, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her walk away from basketball, and to do it sooner rather than later.
Delle Donne’s latest injury might be her most severe – herniated disks which hindered her throughout the WNBA championship series against the Connecticut Sun. She gritted her teeth, persevered and played well — although she didn’t, couldn’t, play her best — as the Washington Mystics won their first title. Delle Donne has had back problems before and there isn’t anything peskier than a bad back, especially for a world-class athlete.
Fortunately for Delle Donne, she now gets to rest her back. And she won’t have to worry about donning that plastic mask, which she wore to protect a broken nose, or the braces for her sore thumb and balky knee.
However, she still has to hope Lyme disease, which has dogged Delle Donne since her senior year at Ursuline, doesn’t rear its debilitating head again, which it can do at any time.
Delle Donne just completed her sixth season in the WNBA, and she has missed games every year because of various injuries and ailments. And the older you get, the more those nagging injuries occur and the longer they, well, nag. And, like all of us, she’s not as young as she used to be. It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by, but the girl we watched as an eight-grader is now a 30-year-old married woman who is just entering the prime years of her life.
Now that she has her championship, Delle Donne has nothing else to prove. She might want to hang around until after the 2020 Olympics, if for no other reason than you can never have too many Olympic gold medals.
And on a star-studded Olympics team, Delle Donne wouldn’t have to carry the load. She could be a complementary player and just enjoy the experience. And that would be a great way to go out, with your last act as a basketball player to stand on the Olympics podium and have a gold medal draped around your neck while the Star Spangled Banner plays in the background.
Of course, she might keep playing simply because she loves playing. Delle Donne is in a great situation in Washington and she has said that this past season was the most fun she’s ever had playing basketball. That, as well as a sense of loyalty to her teammates and coaches, could be enough for her to keep going a while longer.
It won’t be the money. Delle Donne made the WNBA maximum base salary last season, $115,000. That’s a lot of money for most of us, but not a professional athlete and especially not a professional basketball player. WNBA players make a fraction of what NBA players earn, and there are reasons for that – last year, the WNBA generated $25 million in revenues for its 34-game season and the NBA generated $7.4 billion for its 82-game season.
Plus, it’s no secret that Delle Donne comes from a wealthy family and we assume that she will never be hurting financially.
Even more to the point, Elena Delle Donne is a smart, personable and ambitious young woman with many talents and interests, and she has never let basketball define her. That is why she has emerged as such a terrific role model, especially for young girls.
Another consideration, as it is in every facet of Delle Donne’s life, is her sister, Lizzie. She is the main reason Delle Donne left Connecticut and transferred to Delaware and why she requested a trade from the Chicago Sky to the Washington Mystics – all so she could be closer to Lizzie, who was born blind and deaf and with cerebral palsy, and can only communicate through touch and smell.
Lizzie is also the main reason her younger sister doesn’t play in Europe in the WNBA’s offseason, as most of the league’s star players do. Again, Delle Donne doesn’t need the money like so many other players do, but it illustrates once again that as much as she loves basketball, she loves other things, especially family, even more.
Put those two things together – an injury history that could get even worse and a desire to be close to home – and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her hang up her sneakers in the not-too-distant future. Elena Delle Donne has always done things on her terms, and eventually she’ll end her basketball career the same way.