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Hoops Happening: Elena Delle Donne, ‘Uninterrupted’: ‘Women aren’t valued the same way that men are in the workforce’

In a wide-ranging interview on Uninterrupted with Chase, the Washington Mystics star, in conversation with Maverick Carter, discussed the ongoing fight for pay equity for women, tips for managing finances as a professional athlete and her philanthropic and creative passions. This is today in women’s basketball for Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018.

Basketball - Olympics: Day 15
Washington Mystics star and Olympic gold medalist Elena Delle Donne
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Elena Delle Donne may have eased into her activism during her professional career — speaking out for the first time in the run-up to the 2018 WNBA season about the need for the NBA to market the women’s game as it does the men’s game. But her appearance on Uninterrupted with Chase, hosted by Maverick Carter, made it immediately clear that her drive to change things in need of change was there from a much earlier age.

The first order of business for young Elena was to put Delaware on the map:

When I was younger, I can’t tell you how many times people would ask me, What state is Delaware in? It is the first state, number one. So one of my biggest goals playing basketball was, people are going to know that Delaware is a state, and it’s a great state.

But once Delle Donne entered the WNBA and gained an awareness of the vast differences between the treatment of male basketball players in the NBA and female basketball players in the WNBA, she began to use her platform in an important way, pushing back against NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s comments concerning low arena turnout at WNBA games. At the time, Delle Donne stated, “It’s hard to fall in love with a sport or a team or a player if you’ve never seen them and don’t know much about them ... I wish I could just play basketball and have that be my thing. But if I have to give some media knowledge or PR ideas, then fine.”

In conversation with Carter on Uninterrupted with Chase, Delle Donne took her sentiments further, both identifying that the professional inequity faced by women is a societal problem and calling on companies (namely, the NBA) to back their talk of supporting women, with dollars-and-cents investments:

You can kind of just see that women aren’t valued the same way that men are in the workforce. It gets frustrating, but you’ve just got to continue to fight the battle. And it’s a societal problem that I think the league [NBA] and the W [WNBA] can spearhead and kind of start a movement going. It’s big companies needing to step up and put their money where their mouth is, [because] right now, the talk is, you know, The power is female, all that ... But if you’re not putting your dollars behind it and your marketing behind it, then it’s just lip service. So, I’m waiting for the dollars to actually get behind female athletes.

Delle Donne revealed that the maximum salary in the WNBA is $115,000 per season, to which Carter pointed out is “six-and-a-half-times less” than the NBA minimum.

Putting the WNBA’s max salary into the context of the big money the NBA throws around, Joakim Noah — days ago, cut by the New York Knicks — will walk away with $38 million. Now, imagine where the struggling New York Liberty would be if James Dolan, executive chairman and CEO of The Madison Square Garden Company (which owns the Knicks and the Liberty) could invest the $38 million towards to the survival of the Liberty team rather than using it to stuff the pockets of one player who turned out to be a bust for the New York franchise and is no longer with the team.

‘Kneading Dough’ (but not going overseas to get it)

The Uninterrupted episode in which Delle Donne appears is aptly titled “Kneading Dough.” The All-Star spoke about the need for WNBA players to compete for teams overseas, to earn real money, but she also lamented their need to do so. “If you’re not getting endorsements [in the United States], [a WNBA salary] is not enough,” said Delle Donne. “You’re going to have to go overseas.”

The former league MVP has avoided shipping out to other countries during the WNBA offseason, however, no matter how lucrative those overseas contracts happen to be. Instead, Delle Donne wants to improve the salaries of WNBA players so they don’t have to venture abroad in search of higher earnings.

“We want it to happen here,” Delle Donne said. “In America.”

For a country founded on the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and women in the WNBA already working twice as hard as their male counterparts for just a sliver of the riches (with women in myriad professions experiencing a similar plight), a desire to support one’s self in the United States is not too much to ask, especially when pay equity has broader societal benefits.

Women of the WNBA have a habit of opening businesses, thereby, creating jobs that bolster local economies. A few of the many examples include:

And it no longer is a secret that Delle Donne and her wife, Amanda, have a thriving woodworking business called Delle Donne Designs.

The business, along with family being one of her top priorities, are reasons Delle Donne has been hesitant to ship out in search of riches in Russia or China or Turkey:

I don’t wanna play all year round. I love having an offseason to get better at my craft. If you’re playing games all year round you’re not getting better — [not in] the way you can in an offseason. I love being able to see my family, and spending Christmas and Thanksgiving with my family, which people miss out on when they’re overseas. And then, I like to do other things, like I’ve got a woodworking business. I love to get into the woodshop and just create things.

Of the woodworking business — which started when she and Amanda decided to build a coffee table rather than buy one (and for which the pair makes all of the pieces themselves) — Delle Donne said:

It’s so much fun! My wife is more talented than I am, and I’ve learned so much from her. We were going back to Chicago and we needed a little table, a coffee table, and just built it because coffee tables are expensive ... So we said, ‘Shoot — let’s go to Home Depot and buy some wood and build it.’ So, we threw something together, and then good old social media ... I posted it, and just so much feedback, from people wanting to [order one]. So, right away, we’re like ‘aha!’ We’re now going to be a woodworking company.

Offseason woodworking probably won’t bring in the kind of money Delle Donne could earn on a contract with a Russian team, but it sounds like she has chosen the joy of this craft, and getting to experience with her wife, over money. Delle Donne’s choice not to play overseas should not be problematic for her, either, because she has a financial adviser and considers herself “frugal.” In a women’s basketball league where the highest salary is six times less than the lowest salary in the associated men’s counterpart, wouldn’t a player have to be?

11 more quotes from #11

Here’s what else Elena Delle Donne had to say, on a variety of topics:

#1. Biggest lesson learned about money:

I’ve learned that taxes are awful … you mean half of that’s going to go away? I’ve become frugal.

#2. How she learned to save:

We’d have chores and [dad] would be like, alright, here you go. Here’s twenty bucks. What are you going to do with the money? Do you want to save it, and it’ll grow — because as you do more and more chores and get paid it can grow — or do you wanna just spend it all right now on a toy that you’re not going to want in a couple of weeks?

#3. Her advice for rookies:

Get yourself an adviser, because you need somebody who can help you, especially with overseas money and all that. It gets really tricky, and it’s nice to have somebody who understands that.

#4. On combining passions:

I know that I love basketball, I love kids, I love people with special needs, so one of my greatest joys is running Unified Basketball Camp, where I have the typical, able-bodied people playing alongside Special Olympic athletes. And there’s no greater feeling than getting to spend time with them and see them work with one another, and the joy of sport.

#5. Her important philanthropic mission:

The goal of the foundation is to help people with special needs and families who might not have the money to care for their child with special needs. So, what we would like to see [in the] future down the road is, like, going into homes and being able to fit out the whole home to care for a family member who might have special needs.

#6. Endless statewide pride:

I’m telling you, Delaware is the most loyal state there is.

#7. On learning teamwork at home:

Right from when I was born, I knew the importance of working as a team, because my sister has special needs, and it was always about her — how can we help Lizzy to be great and to overcome all these disabilities that have been thrown her way? So, I learned early that it takes a team to achieve a lot — anything, really.

#8. Delle Donne’s biggest obstacle:

Contracting Lyme disease has been the toughest battle that I’ve had to fight. I contracted it in 2008 and, still to this day, I’m fighting it. To be a professional athlete and to have a chronic illness can be really tough. There’s days when I’m just really exhausted, and don’t feel like I have it in me, and have to rest my body, and do extra things to take care of myself.

#9. What Lyme disease taught Delle Donne about money:

[I]t has taught me about money and the importance of saving because so much of the treatments for Lyme disease aren’t covered by health insurance.

#10. Delle Donne’s broke habit:

There are times in the grocery store when I’ll choose, like the cheap brand of toilet paper … And it isn’t as good, but I’m like, this isn’t worth spending the extra money on it so I make that decision.

#11. How her wife reacts to her penny-pinching ways:

My wife like, ‘Why did you just not get Bounty? It’s all ripping … are you kidding me right now? This is awful.’

Drink up, link lush!

Some of the WNBA’s biggest stars go high fashion with In Style magazine, with each woman’s unique body type and personal style celebrated individually.

This is what women want to see: authenticity, diversity of beauty and individuality of style. Women need not be sexually objectified to be beautiful and celebrated.

Here are some videos from the photo shoot:

  • Up close and personal shots allow you to see Breanna Stewart’s crystal-clear blue eyes; Elena Delle Donne’s striking green eyes; Sylvia Fowles, with the best cheekbones in basketball; Skylar Diggins-Smith with a perfect pout; and Brittney Griner with perfect skin, as smooth as a baby’s.
  • In this one, A’ja Wilson looks pretty in pink.
  • And, finally, the ladies get silly in this one and strut their street styles. Extra: Sylvia Fowles makes a little boy fly.

In other news ...

  • Face of the Las Vegas Aces A’ja Wilson has signed an endorsement deal with Mountain Dew Ice, making her the first WNBA player to represent the brand.
  • Intern no more! Washington Mystics guard Kristi Toliver is a Washington Wizards assistant coach.
  • The city of Seattle is not settling for its WNBA champion Storm not receiving government recognition for their third title. A government resolution was passed to celebrate their grand accomplishments.
  • Chris Sienko of the Atlanta Dream got a promotion. In addition to being the team’s general manager, his duties have been expanded to include the role of team president.
  • Sue Bird, a WNBA legend and three-time WNBA champion with the Seattle Storm, seems to be on 90’s music mission — drawing Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder to Storm games and, now, cavorting with Dave “Don’t Drink the Water” Matthews.
  • Cayla George of the Dallas Wings sounded off in Players’ Voice, an Australian publication on par with The Players’ Tribune in the U.S.
  • Candace Parker went back to her roots and visited Lady Vols territory.
  • Jerusalem skater girls are making a big splash in Israel, growing from two girls to 33.

Shine brighter.