No Regrets: Elena Delle Donne Covers SLAM 238

Perspective is a troublesome idea for a lot of to know. In a world consumed by fixed stimulation at our fingertips, trapped in a neverending loop of social comparability, taking the time to zoom out and have a look at the larger image can appear virtually inconceivable. For a lot of, getting to completely understand the that means of perspective in its purest kind and apply it to on a regular basis life takes a lifetime.

Elena Delle Donne has identified what it’s meant since she was 10 years outdated. 

Perspective is what has led the Washington Mystics star to one of the vital profitable careers in WNBA historical past. A two-time MVP, six-time All-Star, 2013 Rookie of the 12 months, 2016 Olympic Gold medalist, and most lately, a WNBA champion. These singular profitable moments wouldn’t have been doable with out triple the variety of sacrifices. To her physique, to her thoughts, even to her profession at occasions, all to develop into one of many biggest.  

SLAM 238 that includes Elena Delle Donne is obtainable now.

It’s a Monday afternoon in Washington DC and the Mystics’ observe has simply wrapped up. Elena is joking round along with her teammates as they clear the gymnasium for our shoot. Simply as we’re about to start, she takes a deep breath and exhales with a smile earlier than saying, “Whew, OK, let’s do that.” 

That lengthy deep breath holds the burden of the final two years. Two years stuffed with surgical procedure, ache and rehab. All from the toll Elena’s physique took through the 2019 WNBA Finals, which culminated in her first, in addition to the Mystics’ first, WNBA title. 

“That’s at all times been my primary factor, to win a WNBA championship, and we did,” Delle Donne says with a giant smile on her face. 

But it surely got here at a value. 

A damaged nostril, a badly bruised knee and three herniated discs in her again. She performed by all of it, understanding that attending to the Finals alone is a feat. She’d been there earlier than. First with the Chicago Sky in 2014, the place they misplaced to Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury, after which later in 2018 with the Mystics, the place they have been swept by Breanna Stewart and the Seattle Storm. The Delaware native knew that these probabilities don’t come round usually, so if it meant sacrificing her physique to win what she’s been after ever since coming into the League, then she was going to do it. 

“It was per week or two after [the championship], of simply celebration, elation and like, This was all so value it. It was a lot enjoyable,” she recollects. “It was every thing and greater than I ever may have imagined, after which there was that second the place it was time to finish the celebration, get into rehab and see what I had finished to my physique.”

The preliminary prognosis required a surgical procedure that will solely put her out for 3 months, however that timeline shortly modified. 

She suffered extreme nerve harm as a result of herniated discs that precipitated extraordinary ache. Not simply that, however her recuperation was additional impacted by her lyme illness, which she was identified with throughout her sophomore 12 months of faculty, and in the end affected the irritation of her damage. 

“I’ve had different accidents and just about the timeline was proper, however this was one thing the place I used to be like, Am I ever going to really feel higher? There have been some days I wasn’t even desirous about basketball,” she remembers. “It was like, I’m 31 years outdated, and I can’t [even] go have dinner and sit down with my spouse to have a meal due to the ache I’m in.”

Whereas all she wished to do was step onto the hardwood and dribble the leather-based ball up and down the ground like she’s finished ever since she was 10 years outdated, she knew she needed to take a step again and maintain herself and her physique. 

And it’s not the primary time she’s needed to take heed to her intestine on the subject of deciding what’s finest for her total well being. 

At simply 16, she was already the highest participant within the nation. All eyes have been on the 6-5, blonde-haired woman who was setting the basketball world aflame. Even OG SLAM Ed. Russ Bengtson had dubbed her the “golden youngster” in a function for SLAM 101 (which is featured within the SLAM Digital Archive. Subscribe right here). The sky was the restrict and there was no stopping the put up participant who had the talents of a guard and was bodying any defender in her means. 

It could be solely two years later, at a time when she had the world at her fingertips whereas enjoying for Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies, that every thing got here crashing down. She was mentally burned out from the sport and lacking her household. It simply didn’t really feel prefer it was for her anymore. She made the troublesome choice to step away and maintain herself. 

In a Jordan-esque transfer, she introduced that she was renouncing her scholarship at Connecticut and would give up the sport of basketball. She determined to maneuver nearer to house and attend the College of Delaware, switching sports activities to volleyball. 

It was a choice that shocked the basketball world. The highest participant within the nation was not going to play basketball. Unimaginable to everybody trying in, however for Elena, it simply felt like the best transfer. To be nearer to her household, and most significantly, her sister. 

Lizzie Delle Donne was born with cerebral palsy and autism, and can be deaf and blind. However these issues by no means altered the bond between her and her celebrity sister. 

“Once I was younger, definitely, I noticed she was totally different,” Elena pauses earlier than persevering with. “Particularly by the way in which buddies even reacted to her at occasions. However then I used to be like, folks do not know the power that she has.” 

Lizzie’s power is what has gotten Elena to the place she is. 

“Simply the quantity that she has needed to persevere by in life is one thing that I’ve been in a position to look to and use her as my guiding gentle,” Elena says. “You already know, I play the sport of basketball for a residing, that’s fairly cool and I do know video games could be robust, practices could be laborious, however the combat with life that she has needed to get by—and he or she continues to wake with a giant smile. For her to be that means has at all times been a motivation for [me] to rise up day-after-day and assault every day.”

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Take into consideration the attitude that teaches anybody at any level of their lives, not to mention a 10-year-old woman. Elena realized the that means of the larger image earlier than basketball was something greater than a passion.  

Basketball is a sport. Elena’s household is her life. That’s what has guided her by all of her robust choices.

After making her means again to basketball, the Elena Delle Donne impact was obvious anyplace and in all places she performed. She led the Delaware Blue Hens to back-to-back NCAA event appearances, after which later as a rookie within the WNBA, she led the Chicago Sky to its first-ever playoff look and eventual Finals look. 

However the troublesome choices have been removed from over for the 2015 MVP. After a profitable 4 seasons within the Windy Metropolis, she made the request to be traded so she may very well be nearer to house. Nearer to Lizzie. 

“I feel the way in which that I’m OK with no matter choice I make is that I do know that the choice is correct with my folks,” Delle Donne says. “I don’t simply resolve alone. My spouse will definitely be within the choice course of, so I do know possibly this won’t be fashionable, possibly different folks aren’t going to like this, however that is proper for us.”

Unafraid to be unconventional. Neglect the noise, neglect what the world thinks. Do what’s finest for you. Be Elena. That’s at all times been her strategy. 

She landed in Washington. Mike Thibault was quietly placing collectively probably the greatest rosters within the League, including Kristi Toliver, Emma Meesseman and Tayler Hill. Elena flourished. 

Once you thought Delle Donne couldn’t get any higher, she did. After being swept within the 2018 WNBA Finals, she got here into the following season with the only real concept of bringing house the trophy burned into her thoughts. Already being probably the greatest shooters within the historical past of the sport, she took it to an entire different stage in 2019. 

She joined the 50-40-90 membership.

The primary lady to ever shoot 50 p.c from the ground, 40 p.c from behind the arc and 90 p.c from the free-throw line in a single season. 

That season might have been one of many hardest she’s ever had, as she powered by accidents and setbacks, however there’s nothing she would change about it. 

“It was value each sacrifice,” are the phrases Delle Donne chooses to explain that illustrious season. 

With the Cinderella 12 months behind her, the following two years grew to become about discovering a option to get wholesome once more. And that’s been something however simple. 

“The most important psychological problem has been the timeline being affected so many various occasions, the place I simply wasn’t feeling higher or feeling proper and simply moments of feeling like, Perhaps I can’t get again.”

It’s been a course of rooted in persistence, however much more importantly, in evolution. Discovering a option to evolve her on-court routines so as to discover a means again to the ground. It’s a shift in mentality that she hopes to use to her new function as co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports activities, Health & Diet. 

And now with the brand new season right here, Delle Donne’s Mystics’ teammates are able to share the ground with the star energy ahead as soon as once more. 

“I seen that she’s rather a lot stronger,” Tianna Hawkins tells SLAM. “She’s much more aggressive offensively.”

“She’s beginning to seem like herself, which is sort of loopy as a result of with a again damage, it’s linked to every thing,” Shatori Walker-Kimbrough provides. “I do know some folks could also be anticipating her to be a step slower, however to me she seems to be nice.” 

These previous few years have been a number of the most taxing occasions of her life, however come this summer time, the child from Delaware is able to re-inject the Elena Delle Donne impact into the Mystics squad. 

Along with her household by her aspect and a perspective on life constructed from all of the challenges she’s confronted, when it comes time to take that very same deep breath and step onto the hardwood for the primary time shortly, she solely has one thought come to thoughts: “It’s been a very long time coming.” 

Portraits by Jon Lopez, motion picture through Getty Photographs. Hair and make-up by Paolina Rios.