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WNBA CHAMPION AND MVP'S DISPUTE Is a cautionary tale for the NBA


Imagine Giannis has a condition that compromises his immune system, and his personal doctor writes a letter to the NBA informing them his patient is a high-risk person concerning COVID-19 and is excused from participating in the Orlando bubble. Now imagine the NBA’s panel of doctors refuses that opinion and inform Giannis they deem him fit to play.

That’s what’s going on in the WNBA right now. Elena Della Donne is the reigning WNBA champion and MVP, and she has to choose between her health and yearly income. EDD suffers from chronic Lyme, a disease she’s lived with for nine years. We don’t have to get into medical details; this will explain everything. 

“Taking 64 pills a day is the only way to keep my condition under any sort of control. It’s the only way to keep myself healthy enough to play the game that I love — healthy enough to do my job and earn the paycheck that supports my family.”

Elena Delle Donne, The Players' Tribune

The consequences of contracting Lyme disease for Della Donne are severe. She’s had serious complications from the common cold and flu shots. Yet, the WNBA medical board determined she is fit to play this season. They did so without talking to her or her doctor. To add insult to injury, Della Donne has no possibility of appeal or second hearing. Under the current system, she has no way to make her case. 

“I’m now left with two choices: I can either risk my life….. or forfeit my paycheck.

Honestly? That hurts.”

Elena Delle Donne, The Players' Tribune

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After her Player's Tribune piece came out, the Mystics (her team) coach and general manager Mike Thibault said that Delle Donne is on the team's roster and is being paid. He said she will be paid throughout the WNBA season, even if she is doing rehab for the back surgery she underwent in January and doesn't play. Delle Donne, by the way, had back surgery after playing in the Finals with three herniated disks. That's badass.

Delle Donne said she is thankful to her team for all the support, but still had some reservations about the rules going forward. Can she rehab at home, and will she be expected to join the team in Orlando once her rehab is done? There seems to be open constructive dialogue between Delle Donne and the team, so it will probably work out. What can NBA players and fans learn from this?

Just to remind you, NBA players and coaches also had to be approved by a medical board before going into the bubble. The concern there was the opposite - that primarily coaches over 65 will want to participate even if it’s not safe for them. That board still has the power to remove anyone from the bubble if the situation changes. 

The other important aspect for NBA fans in this whole story is something Delle Donne mentioned in her Player’s Tribune story. Florida isn’t doing all that great with COVID-19. If a player has a severe reaction and they have to be taken to a hospital, what then? The NBA did set up a clinic within the bubble. Presumably, WNBA will be able to use it too. 

But there’s only so much you can do in an improvised clinic. If someone has complications due to a preexisting condition, like let’s say chronic Lyme disease, they would need more serious medical attention. That’s a risk a lot of NBA players still face while in the bubble. James Harden, for instance, has asthma. Many players have conditions we don’t know about and hopefully won’t find out about. 

As for Elena Della Donne, she will make her decision in the next few days - a decision she shouldn’t have to make. 

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