There are many traces in the history of Elena Delle Donne (Wilmington, Delaware, 1989) that resemble an inheritance from her paternal grandparents. He had emigrated to the United States from the outskirts of Rome. She from Abruzzo. And like the surname he bears, his biography works as a tribute to those Italian roots. Because of the importance it has given to the family. For living with the drama. Because of the exaggeration of the peaks and valleys in his story, Sorrentino’s movie meat.
Star of the Washington Mystics, double WNBA MVP, one of the best basketball players in the world, everything about Elena has been a continuous going from all to nothing. With astonishing ease, as if it didn’t cost. From the deepest valley to the highest peak. Over and over again, and come on and hit it again. From the drama. To passion. And back to the drama.
Today she is still stuck in that permanent ups and downs. On August 22, after chaining injuries, diseases and pandemics, the Mystics played their first official game in two years. Its lowest point was behind. Many, however, wondered and wonder if Delle Donne can go back to being who she was. If one day the player who reached the top in 2019 will be seen again, just before starting her last descent.
Taking a look at his life history, the answer seems clear: he sure will.
It happens that Elena Delle Donne and be the tallest they are concepts that have always gone hand in hand. Just as she was holding onto her mother, back in Delaware, with a pacifier on, when a stranger assaulted them. An eight-year-old girl cannot wear a pacifier, he told them. But if Elena has only three, ma’am, what are you talking about? Little things that already allowed us to intuit that his was not going to be a typical physicist.
It was not. During her childhood, also in her adolescence, Elena lived humiliated by her size. At ten she was the highest in her class. At thirteen he was 1.83. His companions scoffed. A doctor told her mother about the possibility of giving her pills to keep her from growing so big. And in that 90s culture in which being a woman and being tall was fine to be a model as long as you didn’t go overboard, Elena went too far. I couldn’t find anything to do with so much centimeter. Until the sport appeared.
Because that girl, so blonde, so tall, was at the same time the most coordinated, the fastest in the school. He went out in volleyball, of course. And what about basketball. Points here, baskets there, what if I post now, what if now I go out and hit a triple, what if I then rebound and raise the ball passing it behind my back to finish off a layup. Did you just see that? It’s Nowitzki’s wife.
She was named the best high school player in the state of Delaware three years in a row. In its final season, scouts considered it the best in the entire United States. The next step seemed clear: the university, one notch higher.
There he began his first descent.
Summer 2008. Elena was at that time the most sought after high school player in American basketball, no name since Candace Parker had sounded so strong and so strong at her age. As is the norm, at the door of the Delle Donne the University of Connecticut called, great among the greats of women’s basketball.
They convinced her. He went to Connecticut, to play with the best. But the adventure of the new star was short-lived. Very little: a single day. After going back home, Elena gave a massive press conference. The explanations about his scared, succinct:
I have many personal issues to solve. Only my family understands what happens to me. I’m going to take a long personal break.
The surprise was capital. Almost older, still, when he said he was going to transfer to the University of Delaware, close to home. To play volleyball. How? Yes, yes, to play volleyball. She explained that she was already tired of so much basketball, of so much demand, of so much being at the top. He didn’t mean to say that he would “never” play basketball again, but his passion had turned to volleyball, to trying to be close to his family. Always the family.
And it is that that first descent to the valley could not be explained without the weight that the blood, how Italian everything, has in Elena’s life. Without the fact that the only person who didn’t ask her questions about why she was so tall, why she didn’t play basketball again, why she didn’t have a good time if she was the best, was her older sister, Lizzy. Your refuge.
Lizzy was born blind, deaf, with autism and cerebral palsy. And in that summer of 2008 in which the most diverse rumors swarmed about why Delle Donne had left basketball – she was pregnant, ill, addicted to drugs and with depression – the truth was very different: the young player was spending time with Lizzie. With his family. Playing another in a sport in which nobody demanded so much of him. Living 30 minutes from home. Forgetting the obligations that come with being the best.
On a visit to Lizzie’s school, the future WNBA star experienced a defining anecdote for her future, as he told years later in a report for ESPN. It was in a conversation with a partner of his sister who also suffered from cerebral palsy. Elena had doubts about basketball, her body, why she didn’t enjoy a sport that she was good at, almost as a punishment. The woman was clear: “Elena, do everything you can with your skills, just like we do.”
He played again. First solo, with no one else on the track. Then with his brother. The doubts were fading, the hunger to play appeared. He began a new ascent in his life.
Elena Delle Donne joined the Delaware basketball team in her sophomore year in college. The return to stardom was immediate.
Year 2009: 26.7 points per game, 54 in a match against the University of James Madison, prize of rookie of the year and best player of the season in the CAA division.
Year 2011: 28 points per game, top scorer in the entire NCAA; public attendance at Delaware games skyrocketing 250%. The name of Elena Delle Donne reverberates in the US.
Year 2012: the University of Delaware, which until then had its back turned to basketball, what to say about the female, does not stop selling tickets for its matches. Crazy, if it even looked like they could be a contender for the NCAA title. Only Kansas, a favorite in the tournament, could eliminate them. Despite Elena Delle Donne’s 33 points.
All this allowed her to be number 2 of a Historic draft in the WNBA, 2013. He began his professional career in Chicago Sky. He was 23 years old. On Chitown He was Rookie of the Year, three times All-Star, MVP in 2015, gold medal at the Rio Olympics with the USA. The franchise reached the first playoffs in its history in Elena’s debut season. I would also do it in the following. But the icing was missing: the ring.
Washington, Lyme disease, Covid-19
Elena Delle Donne lived again at that time with the episodes caused by Lyme disease, which she had contracted in college. Small valleys on your journey. Joint pain, bone pain, fatigue. A major drag on his career to the desired WNBA ring.
Until, in 2017, the change came. Elena was traded to Washington Mystics. His level skyrocketed even more. New MVP of the regular league in 2019, the second of his career. Enter the exclusive 50-40-90 club, the only woman to do so. And finally, the title in the best league in the world: in a very close final against the Connecticut Sun (3-2), the Mystics became 2019 WNBA champions.
Elena came to those finals with a broken nose, injured knee, three herniated discs and that Lyme disease that had been haunting her for a long time. The mask he had to wear became a symbol in Washington. Of his character, of his competitiveness and passion. Everything did not matter to him: in the four games he was able to play (in the second he stayed in three minutes), Delle Donne averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks.
It was the best in the world, it was at the peak of its history. Everything was so exaggerated, so excessive and dramatic that it seemed like a movie. And it was not over.
Fall and return
The following year, a new decline. The WNBA was going to be held under a bubble format at Covid-19 and the Mystics player requested not to attend due to the immune deficiencies in her body caused by Lyme disease. The league denied him medical permission. They did not consider it a risk group.
In a letter to The Players Tribune, Elena said that she took 64 pills a day to play, that she was not going to risk her life in one season. He rebelled against the WNBA. In the end, the Mystics franchise itself agreed to pay him his full salary – $ 215,000 – despite not going to the bubble.
He did not step on a track in all of 2020. Nor at the beginning of the 2021 season, last May. It was thought that Delle Donne would not play again. I had to shoot barefoot, to ease the pain, moments when a certain Russell Westbrook appeared on the track of the Mystics and the Wizards to help her.
It wasn’t until the first week of August that his preparation began to accelerate. Training. Partidillos. The Olympic break gave him more margin. Finally, recently, he does nothing, rather, the debut; the beginning of your new ascent. On August 22, Elena Delle Donne returned to a track wearing the Washington Mystics jersey. There was his first basket. What if I post you. What if I turn around now. She looked like that high school girl from Delaware. Chof.
He has a way to go back to the top. 2021 was the year for the Washington Mystics to reclaim their WNBA best team throne. They had signed Alysha Clark, the best defender of 2020. Tina Charles and Emma Messemman, MVP of those 2019 finals, returned. And, above all, Elena Delle Donne, the prodigal daughter, was back.
Only Alysha Clark has been injured for the entire season. That Emma Messemman decided to stay in Europe to play for the Belgium team and will not return until 2022. And that Delle Donne has arrived later than expected. All this means that the Mystics, with just over a week to go to the end of the regular league, are far from aspiring to the title. They may not even make the playoff. Right now they are ninth. His record: 10-17.
The new peak of passion in Elena’s life, the new peak of the port in her particular Tour of Italy, will have to wait for next year. To the WNBA in 2022. There, perhaps, I can experience another new success, another ring. In an interview with The Gazzetta dello Sport, Elena said she felt “50% Italian”. It tastes like little. If he returns to the top with a ring, everything would be so dramatic, incredible, beautiful, excessive, as Italian as that surname that his grandparents left him.