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Elena Delle Donne deserves more than an early WNBA Finals exit

The Washington Mystics forward exited game 2 early with back spasms, forcing her best chance at a WNBA title yet to rest on the result of an MRI.

WNBA: Finals-Connecticut Sun at Washington Mystics
Washington Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

There is very little missing from Elena Delle Donne’s resume. Since first being recognized by USA Today as a high school freshman in 2004, the Washington Mystics forward has had to extend her trophy case on an annual basis. She’s been a McDonald’s All-American, WNBA Rookie of the Year, WNBA scoring champion and two-time WNBA MVP in that 15-year span.

But she’s never been a WNBA champion.

It’s the only honor missing for one of the greatest WNBA players of her era. That goose egg isn’t for a lack of trying, though. The 2019 WNBA Finals marks her third appearance in the championship series, but none of those previous appearances produced much cause for celebration. Before Sunday’s game 1 victory, a Delle Donne-led team hadn’t even won a WNBA Finals game.

But 2019 offers Delle Donne her best chance at ending that quest. Her Mystics team bulldozed through the league, imposing an offensive outburst few teams have been able to match. The frontcourt pairing of Delle Donne and the returning Emma Meesseman have been the driving force behind that dominance, helping Delle Donne become the first female member of the 50-40-90 club during the 2019 season. That level of play made it no surprise when the Mystics downed the Connecticut Sun on Sunday.

WNBA: Finals-Connecticut Sun at Washington Mystics
Elena Delle Donne drives to the basket during game 2 of the WNBA Finals
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Then Tuesday happened. Delle Donne’s oft-injured back flared up and she exited game 2 minutes into the first quarter. The Sun went on to win that game, a pattern the Mystics know all too well when Delle Donne isn’t on the court. The team went 0-4 when she wasn’t on the court during the regular season.

Now, Delle Donne and the Mystics’ historic season rests on the results of an MRI. A prominent out athlete who controls nearly every aspect of the game when on the court had that dominion stolen by some spasming muscles. Words can barely encompass how much that must suck to sit with.

Especially when it affects someone whose heart is as strong her jumpshot. Delle Donne isn’t the most deserving WNBA player without a title just because of her game, but also because of the commitment shown to LGBTQ advocacy and being a caretaker for her sister, Lizzie. While many WNBA players spend the offseason playing overseas for hefty paychecks, Delle Donne spends that time back in Delaware with Lizzie, who is deaf, blind, autistic and suffers from cerebral palsy.

Elena Delle Donne Lizzie
Elena Delle Donne with her sister Lizzie
HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel

For Delle Donne, love transcends the sport she’s dominated both in Chicago and Washington. Delle Donne is a star on the court, but, as she stated in a self-penned piece for The Players’ Tribune, “[Lizzie] was the superstar in our family” during her youth. That relationship played a part in her reaching the heights she has during her seven-year WNBA career, and it’s kept her grounded in what matters most.

That experience, along with her own battle with Lyme disease, also taught her that bodies can be fickle, though. Hopefully the MRI comes back clean and Delle Donne can rejoin her teammates on Sunday because the reigning WNBA MVP deserves her time in the sun, even if it’s at the Sun’s expense.