Elena Delle Donne‘s teammates have prepped her for this moment for months. Throughout the WNBA season, they took any chance they could to boast about their undisputed leader and face of the franchise.
Point guard Natasha Cloud has been particularly vocal, both in person and on social media. Scroll through her Twitter account and Instagram stories, and you’ll find a steady flow of posts about Delle Donne being the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) either in the form of a goat emoji or the word “bah” followed by several Hs.
On Thursday, the WNBA officially named Delle Donne the league MVP.
“Tash has prepared me for the ‘MVP’ chants all season long,” Delle Donne said with a laugh before Game 2 of the WNBA playoff semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces. “So I’m definitely ready for that. This is home to me and to be able to bring this to D.C. really means so much.”
Her teammates have long assumed she would receive the award. Delle Donne finished the regular season averaging 19.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game.
She also became the first WNBA player to win the MVP award with two teams—the first happened with the Chicago Sky in 2015—and join the 50-40-90 club, shooting 51.5 percent from the field, 43 percent from beyond the arc, and 97.4 percent from the free-throw line.
Delle Donne swept all three Eastern Conference player of the month awards and received 41 of 43 first-place votes for MVP from a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.
“We were really happy, but at the same time, I think it was like the worst-kept secret,” forward-center LaToya Sanders said after the Mystics won Game 2 of the best-of-five series, 103-91. “Was it really secret? It was just like can y’all just give it to her already?”
“I just want to know who were the two people that didn’t give her the votes,” she added with a laugh. “That’s ridiculous.”
The hyped responses from Delle Donne’s teammates highlight what Mystics players have touted all season: This team has fun, and they get along.
It’s not something that always happens in pro sports, even with successful teams.
“I think it’s mad rare,” said second-year guard Ariel Atkins, “but I think the crazy part about it is if you’ve noticed, if anybody on our team does something, we’re there for them, we’re proud of them, and we’re cheering them on, because they earned it. We have a team of really dope people that do a lot of great, different things. So they deserve it. I mean why not? Support your people.”
Forwards Emma Meesseman, who scored 30 points in Game 2 after a 27-point performance in Game 1, and Aerial Powers both said that this Mystics squad lacks cliques that can plague team sports.
“I feel like this team, it just has something special,” Sanders said. “There’s none of that drama you think of when you have 12 girls on the same team. We genuinely get along, just laugh and joke all day, but we’re able to be serious and do our job at the same time.”
Delle Donne has helped foster that atmosphere. She’s not always a vocal leader, but when she speaks, the players know to listen. In her press conference after winning the MVP award, Delle Donne thanked her teammates first.
“They’ve been so supportive of me,” she said. “The season that we had has been one for the ages and so much fun.”
After Game 2, the players returned to their locker room to find blue Nike T-shirts commemorating Delle Donne’s MVP on their chairs. The players started yelling in celebration.
“Listen, Elena is not just MVP, you know, she off the court is an amazing person, so to have someone like that win an award like this everybody is just behind her and so happy,” Powers said. “She’s a good person off the court and that’s honest to god, and then she just brings our team to a whole new level, so we’re really ecstatic for her.”