Elena Delle Donne: 'It took my wife to help me be myself'
Six years into her WNBA career, Elena Delle Donne appears to be at peace. Things that may have bothered her in the past, no longer weigh so heavily. As a result, she is playing some of the best basketball of her life. The guard-forward is averaging 20.4 points per game, and reached 3,000 career points this season, becoming the fastest player to do so in WNBA history. The 2015 MVP also played in her fifth All-Star game, this time as captain. And that’s before you consider the fact that she helped lead her team, the Washington Mystics, to the brink of a championship before against the Seattle Storm.
“This has been a great year for me, there’s no denying that,” Delle Donne tells the Guardian.
For all her success on the court, it’s more personal matters that Delle Donne believes have helped her game, from finding an agent that “gets” her, to settling in with the Mystics, and .
So when she of the WNBA semi-finals against the Atlanta Dream last month, Delle Donne dug deep and powered her way through Games 4 and 5, helping the Mystics reach the finals. As one media outlet , “Elena Delle Donne balled out on one leg.”
Delle Donne’s journey started with the Chicago Sky, but she felt unsettled, and failed to find the necessary team dynamics to get to the next level. So when the offer to play with the Mystics surfaced, it made sense to create a home for herself in DC. She would get a fresh start and be only a couple of hours away from her family in Wilmington, Delaware.
“I have a comfort here in DC. I think it comes with being older than when I was in Chicago, but I also having incredible teammates,” says the 29-year-old. “I feel like we’ve kind of built a family culture on the scene, which has been huge for our team success, and to my success as well.”
Fans have also noticed something else about about Delle Donne outside of her dominance on the court. The laser-focused player, who takes charge as a leader on her team, isn’t as serious off the court.
“She’s actually really goofy and fun,” her wife, Amanda Delle Donne, says.
Being open to the outside world isn’t exactly second nature to Delle Donne. She’s always been protective of her private life. The barrier that Delle Donne built resulted in fans not being able to connect with her on a more personal level. Amanda felt it was important for the public to see the multi-faceted person that she has grown to love. “When I first met Elena in Chicago, I thought she was going to be really serious, just from what I knew about her as a basketball player,” Amanda says.
After spending time with her though, she quickly realized that Delle Donne was different off-court. “The more I got to know her, the weirder she got. But, weird in a good way!” Amanda says with a laugh. So that fans might see this side of her wife, Amanda starting sharing bits of their life together on social media – their dog attempting to ; one of America’s best athletes ; and some .
“We get a ton of comments and private messages, and we can’t read them all, but the support has been great. People appreciate the glimpses they’ve gotten to see of her away from basketball and we have noticed a difference in who is following her as well,” Amanda says.
Revealing herself like this wasn’t easy, according to Delle Donne. “I wasn’t hesitant at first of my life being on social media because I feel like my whole life has been under a microscope,” Delle Donne says. “But I’m glad she’s taken that initiative, and it took Amanda to help me open up and realize to just be yourself. Who the hell cares?”
This comfort with being more open has also led to another change: she is speaking out more than ever now, lending her voice to issues affecting women and the LGBTQ community. As a result, she’s called out the NBA for not providing more support for WNBA players, : “When you [NBA] put millions of dollars into marketing athletes and allow fans to know the players on the court they develop a connection … Fans feel like they know NBA players. How is anyone going to know me or any of my colleagues if aren’t marketed nearly as much?”
She has also served as a judge during this year’s Washington Capital Pride parade, something she may not have done before. But things are different now she says: “Amanda certainly has helped me realize that I can make a difference, and I also live in a city that is really political where it makes it hard to ignore what’s happening,” says the Olympic gold medallist.
Delle Donne says the ability to be herself has been helped by her new agent, Erin Kane, who is comfortable with the player expressing her views in an increasingly polarized world. “When I was working with other agents, I felt like there were certain things that I needed to hide in order to have a ‘great’ image. But Erin flipped that on its head,” she says “[Erin] told me, ‘You need to be yourself. That is your image, and that’s all that matters. You don’t need to be anyone else.’”
It’s easy to see that Delle Donne’s comfort off the court has helped her game. But now, what she can do with her elevated platform as a star basketball player means so much more to her.
“I’m going to speak my truth and hopefully leave this game better than when I came in. That is far bigger than any championship I could ever win.”