Elena Delle Donne, the 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year who led the Chicago Sky to its first-ever playoff appearance, has been compared to NBA great Michael Jordan, both for her scoring ability and her ability to make players around her better.
At the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans, she finally met her idol. She tweeted:
"Amazing time at the Jordan party Friday night. Finally got to meet my idol Michael Jordan!"
But Delle Donne's offseason has been busy. Electing not to play overseas, as many of her teammates did, she's been hosting basketball clinics and charity functions and building awareness of the Sky and the WNBA.
As the nominal "face" of WNBA Basketball, as well as the Chicago Sky, Delle Donne was omnipresent at February's NBA All-Star Game, participating in the NBA's All-Star celebrity game, teaming with Sky teammate Swin Cash in the Shooting Stars Competition, and taking part in the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports game.
Part of what drives Delle Donne is a special quality that not many athletes possess ... an outsized heart that keeps her involved with causes close to her heart.
In particular, the Special Olympics.
During a recent assembly at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Delle Donne was named a Global Ambassador for the group. She will support Special Olympics’ efforts in promoting acceptance, inclusion, respect and dignity for people with intellectual disabilities.
“I’m so proud to serve as a Global Ambassador for Special Olympics, given their mission is so important to me,” Delle Donne said in a WNBA news release. “My sister Lizzie has an intellectual disability and I’ve always loved working with Special Olympics and being able to get on the court and see young people with and without intellectual disabilities passing the ball and playing together.”
Delle Donne recently took the time to talk about her new role and the upcoming WNBA season with the Desplaines Valley News:
1) Elena, congratulations on being a Special Olympics Ambassador. The ceremony looked lovely. What most impressed you about the celebration, and why was Homewood-Flossmoor High School chosen?
"The ceremony truly was a great event. It is such an honor to be named a Global Ambassador. I was very impressed by the support, attentiveness and energy that the students of Homewood-Flossmoor High School provided throughout the entire ceremony. I felt extremely welcomed by all of the staff and students. Homewood-Flossmoor was chosen because they have a very strong alliance with the Special Olympics and are very enthusiastic about the Special Olympics movement. "
2) There are some misperceptions out there about people with intellectual disabilities. Can you shed some light about capabilities and abilities? What is the true potential of those who participate in Special Olympics? (Full disclosure ... I've been a Special Olympics coach).
"I definitely agree that there are some misconceptions about people with intellectual disabilities. I think a lot of these misconceptions come from a lack of knowledge and lack of experience in interacting with individuals with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics provides an incredible platform for people with intellectual disabilities to showcase their skills, talents and abilities. I can say with great confidence that the people who may be misled by these misconceptions would be greatly surprised and enlightened to see the true abilities of the Special Olympic athletes. These athletes work hard at their sports, like all athletes, and through this hard work are able to reach their own maximum potential, whatever that may be. "
3) What, specifically, will be your role as Ambassador? Where will you be going and what will you be doing? And will you be making more trips to the southwest suburbs?
"As a Global Ambassador it is a part of my mission to spread awareness about the Special Olympics movement as well as about people with disabilities in general. I will be interacting directly with Special Olympic athletes teaching them about basketball while helping to spread awareness and understanding throughout the world."
4) You had quite a rookie season, and elected to stay in the Chicago area instead of going to Europe to play basketball, like so many of your teammates did. What can we expect from the Chicago Sky as a team in the upcoming season?
"I am extremely excited about the upcoming WNBA season. I have been here in Chicago working on improving my overall strength and my game and my teammates are in various countries continuing to play and improve. We have very high expectations as a team for this upcoming season and are extremely focused on meeting our goals as a team."
5) What personal goals have you set for the next season, both as an Ambassador, and in your second year in the WNBA?
"As an ambassador my personal goal has two parts. First, I want to reach as many Special Olympic athletes as I can. I want to have the opportunity to interact with these athletes, help them improve their skills and give them an environment to socialize and compete. Secondly, I want to have a major impact in the spreading of awareness, acceptance and understanding of individuals with disabilities.
"As far as my goals for the WNBA season, my goals are very team oriented. We are focused on bringing Chicago its first WNBA championship."
NOTE: This article first appeared in the April 2, 2014 issue of the Des Plaines Valley News
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