The bond between Elena Delle and her sister, Lizzie, was made clear when she famously walked away from Geno Auriemma's Connecticut program after just 48 hours on campus. At first, it felt as though maybe she'd burned out on basketball -- that the game she'd always loved was somehow the problem. But soon it became clear to her that she wasn't walking away from anything, but rather walking toward her family.
Delle Donne's older sister Lizzie has autism and cerebral palsy. She's been blind and deaf since birth, so the only way for her loved ones to communicate with her is via touch and smell. Being at UConn meant losing all connection to Lizzie, and an 18-year-old Delle Donne just wasn't ready for that loss. She enrolled closer to home, at the University of Delaware, and eventually found the balance of family and basketball she needed.
A new short film produced by Gatorade, "For The Wind," explores the relationship between the Chicago Sky star and her sister, revealing the joy Lizzie feels when touched by the wind and how special it is for Delle Donne to play in Chicago. Gatorade also constructed a temporary wind-powered art installation outside of the Sky's stadium, Allstate Arena. Over 1,500 wind spinners of different colors present different images from various perspectives, including a portrait of Delle Donne visible from one vantage point.
The reigning WNBA MVP joined my podcast this week to speak about the project and the serendipitous nature of being drafted by the Sky.
"It's pretty crazy how fate works in ways like that," she said. "The wind meaning so much to the two of us and then being a part of the Windy City and playing for Chicago, it all just came to fruition. It's pretty amazing that it happened that way."
Now 27 and in her fourth WNBA season, Delle Donne is able to play hundreds of miles away from home in part because she can still feel Lizzie every day.
"Truly the first time I left Delaware was when I was drafted here in Chicago," she said. "It does have that homey feel, that family feel still. And then obviously when that wind blows and kicks up, it's gonna always remind me of Liz."
Delle Donne also thinks of Lizzie when she's faced with challenges like injuries and illness. She's experienced incredible highs in her short time in the league -- being named WNBA Rookie of the Year in her first season and WNBA MVP in her third -- but also some lows, including an extended absence in her second season because of a flare up of Lyme disease, and now a thumb injury for which she underwent surgery last week and is at serious risk of missing the playoffs.
"Thank goodness for Liz, because there's been ups and downs in my career," said Delle Donne. "Once again I'm able to put it in perspective and look at her life, look at the challenges she's overcome and, you know, a banged up thumb is nothing compared to what she's had to deal with."
As of Monday, Delle Donne is tied with Tina Charles atop the WNBA leaderboard with 21.5 points per game. She's also tops in free throw percentage and in the top 5 in the league in three-point percentage and blocks. Her absence makes things much more difficult for the Sky, still seeking their first WNBA title.