The chants materialized sometime during the summer, a hopeful signal of what could come. Then they repeated, game after game until Sept. 8, when a near-full crowd at the Washington Mystics’ regular-season finale called out to Elena Delle Donne: “M-V-P! M-V-P!”
It was “something that gives you chills,” Delle Donne said after that game. “I absolutely love this city and there’s nowhere I’d rather be.”
She was a preseason favorite to win the award, yet she turned in a special season-long performance that made it undeniable.
Delle Donne was named the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player on Thursday for the second time, following the most dominant and well-rounded season of her career.
“I wouldn’t be standing here without the help of my teammates,” Delle Donne said as she accepted the award before Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces. “They have been so supportive of me. The season that we’ve had has been one for the ages, and so much fun.”
She received 41 out of 43 first-place votes from the national panel of reporters and broadcasters.
Delle Donne ranked second in the league in scoring with 19.5 points per game and fifth with 8.3 rebounds per game, the only player in the top five in both categories. She became the first woman to join the “50-40-90 Club” by shooting a career-best 51.5% from the field, 43% from 3-point range and a ridiculous 97.4% from the free-throw line — the highest qualifying mark the WNBA has seen in 10 years.
She also averaged 2.2 assists and 1.3 blocks per contest.
She achieved all this while playing through two injuries. After suffering a bone bruise in her knee that hobbled her in the 2018 playoffs, Delle Donne missed the first game of 2019 with knee soreness. She also broke her nose in the first minute of a game in July, causing her to miss the rest of the game and the following two.
The Mystics went 0-4 in games Delle Donne wasn’t available and 26-4 with the star, on their way to setting a new mark for the best record in franchise history at 26-8. Time has passed since her injuries, but Delle Donne continues to wear both a knee brace and a face mask when she takes the court.
Delle Donne, 30, also was named the Associated Press Player of the Year last week and was an All-Star for the sixth time.
At morning shootaround Thursday, Mystics guard Natasha Cloud, Delle Donne’s unofficial “campaign manager” for the award, wore a custom-made hoodie with Delle Donne’s picture on the front and “MVP” on the back.
“Elena is extremely deserving,” Cloud said. “What she is for our team, for our organization and just for our locker room too. I like to say that Elena’s the best player in the world, whether people think that’s biased or not. What makes her different and what separates her is how she is off the court and who she is as a person, too.”
Delle Donne did “everything an MVP should do to impact her team,” coach Mike Thibault added.
“She earned it. She’s deserved it,” he said. “I love it when players just keep getting better every year. She’s done a lot to get better at both ends of the court.”
In 2017, as Delle Donne sought to move closer to her family in Wilmington, Delaware, the Chicago Sky sent her to the Mystics in a blockbuster trade. Delle Donne won MVP in 2015 with the Sky and is now the sixth player to win multiple MVP awards — and the first to do so with two different teams.
“This is home to me,” Delle Donne said. “To be able to bring this to D.C. really means so much. To be able to go out there tonight, share this with the fans and hopefully come away with a win would really mean a lot.”
Delle Donne is the third athlete representing a Washington team to win league MVP this decade, joining Bryce Harper and Alex Ovechkin.
Next, she will try to do something that Ovechkin managed to do and Harper could not — help bring a championship to the District. If the Mystics defeat the Aces, they’ll advance to the WNBA Finals to take on either the Connecticut Sun or the Los Angeles Sparks, starting Sept. 29.