During her award-winning rookie season, it became clear early that Elena Delle Donne would rather talk about her teammates than herself.
She’d go out of her way to praise Sylvia Fowles or Epiphanny Prince for how they were playing “Sky basketball.” Ask Delle Donne about herself and the answers would be polite but brief, and she’d quickly turn conversation back to her teammates.
But this winter, Delle Donne has become the Sky’s focal point. While most of her teammates are playing overseas, Delle Donne turned down lucrative offers and stayed in the area to help promote the Sky brand. She’s done clinics, promotional and charity outings and will be omnipresent at NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.
It’s becoming clear that Delle Donne has emerged as the face of the Sky and maybe of the WNBA. That celebrity status is something Delle Donne is growing comfortable with.
“Of course. It’s great for the sport. We need attention on our sport, and I take a lot of pride in being a really good role model, too,” Delle Donne said. “I know that the attention is going to be there and it’s important for our game to have it there and I’ll do the best I can with that attention to give back and do some really good things out in the community.”
She has been named a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics and has conducted clinics for athletes with special needs. She also took part in a benefit for kids with Lyme Disease in her home state of Delaware.
That, though, is only part of what she’s tried to accomplish this winter.
She is also trying to help the Sky build off a season where its attendance jumped a league-high 17 percent to 6,700 per game. Sky president and CEO Adam Fox said the team is ahead of last year’s season-ticket pace and that renewals are around 97 percent.
Delle Donne has been a part of that, even if it means promoting herself a little bit.
“I think that she understands it’s a role she has to play,” Fox said, “but she also knows like any great player and great leader that you have to work with everybody else around you and it can’t be a me-centric opportunity.”
In New Orleans, she competed in Friday’s celebrity game and will team with Swin Cash in Saturday’s Shooting Stars competition. On Sunday, she’ll take part in the NBA Cares Special Olympics Unified Sports game.
If she’s uncomfortable with her newfound status as a celebrity, Delle Donne isn’t showing it.
“I think that’s a great thing. The league needs more girls to be noticed and seen,” Delle Donne said. “The main thing with staying here and not going overseas was to stay top of mind for Chicago and be out there for the league so we can have some growth that you can see and look up to and know we’re around here doing work and excited about our next season.’’