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Elena Delle Donne is on her way back to the hardwood for the first time in two years, and she’s giving tons of credit to an unlikely helper.
The two-time WNBA MVP and six-time All-Star had two back surgeries in a year-long span after powering through a broken nose, a lingering knee injury, and three herniated discs to bring the Washington Mystics their first championship in 2019. She hasn’t played since, but she’s finally gearing up for her long-awaited return for the second half of the 2021 WNBA season.
Delle Donne said NBA superstar Russell Westbrook was one of the “biggest helps” throughout her recovery. The nine-time All-Star played for the Washington Wizards last season, and would often arrive for practice “way too early on a game day even” to help her out.
“He would come in and rebound for me as I’m barefoot and shooting, you know, two footers close to the rim,” Delle Donne said during her media availability on Monday. “Days I just didn’t want to have it or … just wanted to be in my feelings, there were moments like that where he would show up and bring me out of a funk.”
“[I’d] be like ‘I got this. I can keep doing this,'” she added. “He believes in me, these people believe in me, my teammates believe in me, I can do this. So there were some days, yeah, I wasn’t believing in myself, but others were helping me through it.”
Now that Delle Donne is on the brink of returning to the court for game play, she says she’s “been feeling really good, which is so exciting” and that it’s been “mentally incredible just to be back with my teammates again and competing.”
“It has been quite a long road,” she said. “And I don’t think you realize how much you miss it until you’re actually back in it.”
Still, the 6-foot-5 superstar has no choice but to take things “practice by practice, day by day” in order to protect herself and prevent a relapse.
“Am I doing more and more each day? Yes,” Delle Donne said. “Some days, am I doing the same thing I did the day before to see how I can handle this type of load? Yes. But it has been amazing to play basketball again.”
“I’m certainly proud of where I’ve come from and that I’m even in this position right now to be practicing and trying to work my way back.”