Elena Delle Donne downplayed severity of 2019 WNBA Finals back injury to teammates

Delle Donne downplayed severity of 2019 Finals injury to teammates originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

No one denies the toughness of Elena Delle Donne after what she endured during the entirety of the 2019 season to win her maiden championship. Opening up on that “trauma” in a recent podcast, there might not even be a proper descriptive adjective to reflect what she put her body through. 

The two-time WNBA MVP was a featured guest on a recent episode of In the Moment with David Greene. There, she went into great detail about her back injury following Game 2 of the 2019 WNBA Finals, among other topics.

Back in 2019, Delle Donne was diagnosed with three herniated discs in her back – a detail that was unbeknownst to the public until Natasha Cloud spilled the beans after the series. At the time, it was just a back injury. Another ailment to go with the bone bruise in her left knee (where she still wore a knee brace) and the recovering broken nose that required her to wear a mask. 

Well, even the details that she shared with her team weren’t the full story.

“With the pain, I knew that my back was worse than what I was kind of letting on so I knew I probably risked and did a little bit to it,” Delle Donne told Greene. “And really I was only fully honest with [my wife] about how much pain I was experiencing. With everyone else, I was trying to play it off.

“Didn’t want people to worry. I didn’t want my teammates to worry that I wasn’t ready. Didn’t want the coaching staff to coach me any differently. I wanted things to stay the same because I knew to win things had to kind of stay the same.”

That season Washington was dominant on the offensive end of the court, setting numerous franchise and league records in the process. All they had to do was stay the course and the trophy seemed destined to have the Mystics’ name etched in it. Delle Donne knew she couldn’t be her MVP-self from that regular season, but she could be a factor, hit some shots and draw attention from the Connecticut Sun’s defense.

Related: Why Elena Delle Donne should’ve been All-WNBA

It all was coming a year after the organization came up short in the Finals. That’s probably why the podcast host said that Delle Donne “ignored warnings from team doctors” to play in Game 5. 

“You dream of going to a Game 5 and winning a championship, but in my dreams, I didn’t realize I was going to be dealing with excruciating back pain and pain down my left leg,” Delle Donne said.

“It’s weird, I almost can’t remember that game very well. And I’m wondering is that because it was a trauma and I was in that much pain. And a lot of times when your body is in pain or experiencing a trauma, you don’t remember that much.”

She told Greene that the doctors gave her the whole run-through of her options to play. They said she could injure herself more. There was also some unknowns about what could happen and how much risk she was putting on herself. Nerve damage and the medications she was taking were all factors.

We now know the end result. There was a coveted trophy but it would eventually lead to a near two-and-a-half year recovery before we saw Delle Donne return in her full glory.

No teammate or friend ever tried to get her to not play. But her wife Amanda, who knew the true pain she was suffering, did say something that stuck with her.

“My wife (was) kind of just being like, ‘you know you also have a life to live after this. Say we have kids or say you want to go run around with the dogs, you’ve got to keep that in mind,'” Delle Donne said. “She knew she had to say it, but she knew what my answer was going to be. It was like, ‘I’m fine, I’ll figure it out. I’ll have time after the season, I’ll be alright.'”

It was quite a while longer than just one off-season. It was an excruciatingly long time for the Mystics to have Delle Donne back playing as an All-World-type player. There have been three seasons since that title, plus the injury, and zero playoff victories in that time. 

But everything that Delle Donne went through in her recovery makes the journey to get back to playing just as satisfying as that championship.

“That moment will always be huge especially because of the challenge and test it put on my body and mind to get back. To be able to show that I have that strength and ability to persevere when it almost looked like this career is not it anymore, like your body just can’t do it. That’s truly the moment. It’s not even the winning of the championship, it’s what I’ve gone through now to even be back and playing.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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