WASHINGTON — While we may never know the exact conversations that set into motion a blockbuster WNBA trade that sent Elena Delle Donne in the prime of her career from Chicago to Washington, her enthusiasm to play in the nation’s capital is increasingly clear.
Delle Donne grew up in Northern Delaware, just a short drive or train ride from downtown D.C. With no WNBA teams in Baltimore or Philadelphia, the Mystics are her hometown team.
That sense of belonging resonated any time she played at the Verizon Center, as she described in an open letter to D.C. sports fans:
Anyone who has followed Delle Donne’s career understands how much family means to her. Naturally, she is incredibly close to her sister, Lizzie, who was born deaf, blind and non-verbal, with cerebral palsy and autism.
Coming out of high school in Delaware, she was the No. 1 recruit in the country and went to play for the UConn powerhouse, in the midst of a historic run of dominance. In the summer of 2008, she abruptly left a Connecticut team destined for an undefeated season and National Championship, blaming it on burnout.
In reality, it was a painful guilt and homesickness that had caused her to fall out of love with basketball.
“I blamed basketball for taking me away from home. I hated the sport,” she told ESPN in 2009. “Every time I was playing basketball, I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t realize that feeling was having to leave my family — having to leave my sister, who can’t even communicate with me when I’m gone.”
So she went back to the University of Delaware, took a year off from the sport and hit the ground running again, closer to home. The program flourished and she rebounded, personally and athletically.
As a professional, she was drafted by the Chicago Sky with the second overall pick in 2013 and has collected almost every award that the league has to offer. It’s easy to see why the Mystics would want to add her and she would want to go, but there is perhaps some charity on the part of the Sky to let her go, even for a major trade return.
“This is one of those situations where it happens to be a win-win-win. Elena is content, and Washington is content. No one was pushed to do anything — not Elena, not Washington, not Chicago,” Sky coach and general manager Amber Stocks said. “The idea of something being mutually beneficial, those opportunities are few and far between, but they exist, and that’s what happened here.”
Delle Donne’s agent Erin Kane explained it another way:
“Elena has always been a player who plays for the enjoyment of the game. There are other considerations for her, and they have to do with her family — her sister in particular.”