Elena Delle Donne wants to help her Washington Mystics teammates defend their WNBA title. But with her health condition, she said she doesn’t feel like she can when the 2020 season begins later this month.
A panel of physicians feels otherwise.
Elena Delle Donne was “in disbelief” after the medical panel denied the reigning MVP in her request to opt out of the 2020 WNBA season.
Delle Donne broke the news to ESPN in a statement Monday night.
“I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play! But the question is whether or not the WNBA bubble is safe for me. My personal physician who has treated me for Lyme disease for years advised me that I’m at high risk for contracting and having complications from COVID-19,” Delle Donne said in her statement to ESPN.
Delle Donne was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2008 after being bitten by a tick while in high school. Lyme disease is not included in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of underlying conditions that could put people at increased risk for coronavirus.ESPN reported that the WNBA medical panel uses CDC’s guidelines for evaluating high-risk cases.
“The independent panel of doctors the league appointed to review high-risk cases have advised that I’m not high risk, and should be permitted to play in the (WNBA bubble in Bradenton, Florida),” Delle Donne said in the statement.
Delle Donne and her agent told ESPN that the panel’s ruling goes against the advice from her own personal physician.
“When I talked to Elena, her initial reaction was disbelief,” Delle Donne’s agent, Erin Kane, told ESPN.Because of her Lyme disease, Delle Donne’s personal doctor considers her at higher risk for serious illness than other players if she were to have contracted the coronavirus while in the WNBA bubble.
Players can still opt out and skip the season if the panel does not grant them a medical waiver. However, they will not get paid if they opt out.
Neither Delle Donne or teammate Tina Charles made the trip to Bradenton with the Mystics. Charles is still waiting to hear about her opt-out request.
Delle Donne led the Mystics to the franchise’s first WNBA title last season. She averaged 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. She became the first WNBA player to shoot over 50% from the field (51.5%), 40% from behind the 3-point line (43%), and 90% from the foul line (97.4%). Only eight NBA players have accomplished that feat. In addition to playing with Lyme disease, Delle Donne played in last season’s WNBA Finals with three herniated discs in her back.
Charles, who has averaged 18.1 points in her career, was acquired in April from the New York Liberty. Thibault said last week the team was preparing for the season without their two star players, plus Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders. The latter pair decided to opt out of the 22-game season last month — Cloud for social activism reasons and Sanders for injury.
The Mystics would be down to just 10 players if both Delle Donne and Charles miss the season because Washington is unable to sign replacements due to being over the salary cap.
The Mystics still have WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, Tianna Hawkins, Ariel Atkins and Aerial Powers who all played key roles on last season’s championship squad.
“Luckily we have players like Emma and Tianna and the two Ariels from last year’s team who have totally embraced the challenge that’s in front of them,” Thibault said last week. “I think Emma looks at everything as a big adventure in life, and so I think that kind of rubs off on teammates sometimes. That’s good for us.”
Delle Donne told ESPN she will reveal her plans for the season soon.
“As with all of our players, we have and will support Elena throughout this process,” Thibault told ESPN in a statement. “The health and well-being of our players is of the utmost importance.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.