A little while ago, I wrote a column suggesting it might be time for Elena Delle Donne to hang up her sneakers and retire from competitive basketball.
At the time, my reasoning seemed reasonable – Delle Donne had just led the Washington Mystics to the WNBA championship after winning the league’s MVP award, and she did it despite a long list of injuries and illnesses that have dogged her throughout her career. That includes ruptured disks in her back that forced her to sit out one game of the WNBA Championship series and hampered her throughout.
So, with multiple MVP awards, an Olympics gold medal and now, finally, that elusive WBNA title, Delle Donne has nothing to prove. That’s why it made sense that she would consider her long-term health and walk away from the game that she has played her entire life. Basically, it would have been a case of getting out while the getting was good.
Delle Donne played through three herniated discs in WNBA finals
Case in point: Just last week, Delle Donne had what doctors are calling “successful” surgery to hopefully fix that bad back. You have to wonder why she would risk re-injuring it, especially since bad backs are tricky things and can be life-long problems. And that’s not even counting all of the other injuries she’s endured throughout her career, not to mention a case of Lyme’s disease that can flare up at any time.
But then, after her surgery, I saw a tweet from somebody whose name escapes me, and what he said made me reconsider my previous position. The tweet was simple and to the point, as the tweeter wished Delle Donne well after her surgery. And then he added this: “Basketball needs you.”
And that’s why Elena Delle Donne will keep playing and should keep playing – she doesn’t need basketball, but basketball needs her.
More to the point, women’s basketball needs her. Delle Donne is the biggest and most marketable star in the WNBA, and the league just agreed to a new and lucrative collective bargaining agreement with the WNBA players association. The Washington Mystics also announced on Friday that Delle Donne, a free agent, will re-sign with the team.
New agreement will triple WNBA salaries
The new agreement will more than triple current WNBA salaries. And top players, such as Delle Donne, can now earn up to $500,000 per season. Plus, the league will provide better transportation and traveling options, enhanced child care and maternity benefits, and put more focus on strategic planning and marketing for the future.
To most people, $500,000 a year is a fantastic salary, but it still pales next to what an NBA player earns, and there’s a reason for that difference – the WNBA generated $25 million in earnings last year and the NBA generated $7.4 billion. Also, the WNBA plays only 34 games, whereas the NBA plays 82.
But all of that aside, this is a momentous time for women’s sports and that includes the WNBA. It’s on the cusp of becoming a big-time national sport as more and more girls play and watch basketball.
And nobody has more influence on those young girls than Elena Delle Donne, who is a great example of what you can accomplish when you combine talent, hard work and perseverance.
Fortunately, she knows she’s a role model, and she embraces that responsibility. Delle Donne’s basketball stardom has given her a platform to reach out to those kids and she willingly takes advantage of it. She doesn’t look at it as an obligation as much as a privilege.
Someday, Delle Donne may pay a price for continuing her basketball career. She is 30 now, and eventually, all of the bumps and bruises and sprains and strains could take a toll.
But Delle Donne gladly pays that price because she knows that basketball needs her. More importantly, all of those young girls need her, too.