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Elena Delle Donne, WNBA legend and LGBTQ sports icon, set to announce break from basketball

ESPN reported that the 34-year-old would not sign the one-year super max deal offered by the Washington Mystics.

WNBA: JUL 09 Washington Mystics at Connecticut Sun
Elena Delle Donne led the Washington Mystics to their first championship in 2019 but hasn’t played a full season since.
Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In shocking news for many WNBA fans Thursday, Elena Delle Donne looks unlikely to be on the court in the 2024 season.

The seven-time All-Star led the Washington Mystics to their first and only league championship in 2019 but has played just 51 games since then, due to injuries.

Sources have told ESPN that, having been designated a core player, she has declined the team’s one-year super-max offer.

It leaves Delle Donne’s return to the league uncertain, following at least two back surgeries in recent years.

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported: “Delle Donne continued to weigh her career options and decided this week that she needs more time to think about her future in the game, sources said.”

Last year, Delle Donne placed 32nd on the inaugural Outsports Power 100 list celebrating the most influential LGBTQ people in sports.

She was playing for the Chicago Sky as the reigning WNBA MVP when on the eve of the Olympics in August 2016, a profile for Vogue magazine noted that she was engaged to Amanda Clifton. It was the first time the couple’s relationship had been mentioned publicly.

In Rio, Delle Donne said it was “not a coming out article” and that she and Amanda had been together for a long time.

The news made her one of 56 out LGBTQ athletes at those Games, along with her teammates Seimone Augustus, Brittney Griner, Angel McCoughtry.

They went on to secure a sixth consecutive Olympic gold medal for Team USA, and Delle Donne was later named Outsports Female Hero of the Year.

The Knot Gala 2016
Amanda Clifton and Elena Delle Donne pictured at an event in New York City in October 2016.
Photo by Mark Sagliocco/FilmMagic

She was traded to the Mystics in 2017 and married Amanda in a stunning ceremony at a Long Island mansion at the end of that season. The ceremony was officiated by the guard-forward’s then agent, Erin Kane.

In a Guardian interview the following year, after the Mystics had been beaten by the Seattle Storm in their first WNBA Finals appearance, Delle Donne explained how her now wife had encouraged her to be more authentic.

“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,” she said.

“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?”

Kane’s advice had an effect too. “[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,” added Delle Donne.

2019 WNBA Finals - Game Five
Elena Delle Donne and her wife Amanda embrace after the Mystics’ championship-clinching win in the WNBA Finals in October 2019.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

She battled through injury to lead the Mystics to their first title in 2019 as they defeated the Connecticut Sun in five games, was named MVP again, and also became the first and so far only woman to join the 50-40-90 club (50% field goal efficiency, 40% three-point field goal efficiency and 90% free-throw shooting efficiency).

She sat out the COVID-19-affected 2020 season, with Lyme disease a factor, and played only three WNBA games in 2021, also missing the Tokyo Olympics.

She played in at least 23 games in each of the 2022 and 2023 seasons, with the Mystics exiting the playoffs in the first round on both occasions.

Soon after her 34th birthday in September, she launched Deldon Wines — said to be the first-ever wine brand created by an WNBA athlete — and that has been the focus of much of her Instagram and Facebook output in recent weeks, alongside pictures with Amanda, family and dog Rue.

Delle Donne’s impact as an out athlete can be seen in a letter written by runner Susie Poore as part of an Outsports feature for Pride Month 2022.

Athletes were invited to address an LGBTQ role model in sports who had inspired them.

“You showed me who I could be,” wrote Poore to Delle Donne. “What I could do. How I could love — fiercely, openly, and proudly. You helped me find the sense of home in sports that I’d been looking for since I was a kid. You made me love basketball again.

“And, you sparked pride in my lesbian athlete identity by having the bravery to simply exist as yourself. That’s something I’ll be celebrating every month of the year for the rest of my life.

“Thank you for being the person I needed when I was young.”