Elena Delle Donne Was ‘In Agony’ Prior To Offseason Back Surgery

Elena Delle Donne, the 2019 WNBA MVP, is out for the 2020 season nursing a back injury that required surgery in the offseason. She discussed the “agony” she felt throughout the Washington Mystics’ championship run in 2019 in her recent conversation with A’ja Wilson and Naphessa Collier on their podcast, “Tea With A & Phee.”

“I wasn’t ready (for the season),” Delle Done says. “I kind of kept it pretty quiet but I had back surgery in the offseason and then due to COVID, everything got messed up.”

Delle Donne wasn’t able to be at the Mystics’ facility to rehab the injury because of public health rules that prevented WNBA players from going in for treatment for several months, as well as her particular caution due to her diagnosis with Lyme disease.

That Lyme disease diagnosis is ultimately why Delle Donne applied for medical clearance from the 2020 season. She was denied, a very public incident for the league and the most high-profile player from the NBA or WNBA to apply (and the only known case to be denied). But ultimately, the Mystics decided to keep Delle Donne on the roster and keep her inactive with the back injury, ensuring she would be paid throughout the season.

Delle Donne said she kept quiet about the injury so as to avoid stray elbows from opponents last season, and said she would not have been ready to play by the start of the 2020 season even if she did choose to to the Bubble. The hosts asked Delle Donne about the perception that she’s not “tough” because she decided not to play rather than duking it out in the Bubble and defending the Mystics’ title. Delle Donne dismissed it as the type of narrative that comes with being an athlete.

“I was in agony, and it was pretty brutal,” Delle Donne said. “Backs are pretty tough, so this could have some lasting impact.”

This latest situation comes after Delle Donne in the 2018 WNBA semifinals fought through a gruesome, knee-buckling bone bruise to play in a series Washington took to five games.

In order to play in that series, Delle Donne spent hours in a hyperbaric chamber, moved in an Alter G machine, and another several hours in a float tank in addition to the usual icing, stretching and massaging players receive. Delle Donne played five days after the injury.

Now, it’s the back. Delle Donne is one of the few WNBA players who does not go overseas in the offseason to compete professionally and supplement their income, yet she can’t seem to avoid major injuries. That, in addition to taking dozens of pills per day to treat Lyme disease, only makes Delle Donne’s dominating 2019 MVP and championship run all the more magical. It also gives hope that sitting out the Bubble season might finally be the type of rest she needs to come into 2021 healthy.