Elena Delle Donne stopped by the JWS podcast with host Kelley O’Hara this week to talk about her basketball career, including battling back from injuries and what winning the 2019 WNBA championship meant to her.
Delle Donne has been with the Mystics since training camp, doing individual workouts after missing the 2020 season and undergoing a second surgery on her back in December. She had originally hoped to be ready by the season opener last month, but the timetable for her return remains unclear.
Without Delle Donne, the Mystics are 2-4.
“I am trying to just take things day by day,” she said on the podcast, “trying not to put a date on anything.”
The WNBA star entered the league in 2013 as the second-overall draft pick of the Chicago Sky. Despite a turbulent relationship with the sport early on, Delle Donne fulfilled a childhood dream when she was drafted.
“As crazy as this journey has been, I did make it to the place I wanted to be when I was that little girl setting out all these goals for myself,” she said.
After enduring back injuries and a Lyme disease diagnosis in her early years in the WNBA, Delle Donne’s 2019 season was especially triumphant.
The Mystics forward won her second MVP award in 2019, making her only the sixth player to win the honor multiple times. She also became the first WNBA player to join the 50-40-90 club, shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3 and 90 percent from the free-throw line.
“It was quite stressful the last few games,” Delle Donne said of holding onto the statistical title.
That same season, Delle Donne played through three herniated discs in the WNBA Finals to help the Mystics claim the 2019 trophy.
“I don’t think I could have handled the heartbreak of losing that after what I put my body through,” she said.
In 2020, things slowed down for the MVP when she had surgery in January to address the pain in her back. When the COVID-19 pandemic set in and the WNBA announced the bubble season, Delle Donne asked for a medical exemption — which would allow her to skip the season and still get paid — and the league denied her request.
“It never even crossed my mind that I would be denied,” she said.
In response, Delle Donne penned an open letter in the Players’ Tribune about her daily battle with Lyme disease. The WNBA upheld its decision to deny Delle Donne the medical exemption, but the Mystics paid out her entire salary for the season.
“The Mystics have always been such an incredible organization and such a family to me,” she said. “This is where I will always play my career as long as they want me.”
You can listen to the full conversation here.