Elena Delle Donne makes her body into a C-shape -- no bigger, an end parenthesis -- as she hunches over a workbench whose tabletop hits her midthigh at best. She's in her garage on her parents' rolling-hills estate in Delaware, and she's been tasked with holding a clamp steady while her fiancée, Amanda Clifton, uses wood glue and a nail gun to affix a small plank of wood to a greater wooden canvas. They're making a piece of wall art, one of the 30 orders they've received from fans or woodworking connoisseurs since they Instagrammed their first project, a coffee table. Amanda does most of the design and cutting work. Elena's duties are more in line with this clamp work. "It's because she's so strong," Amanda says. Elena moves her legs into a sturdy stance and screws the clamp in steady.
This is how she uses her monolith, her Statue of Liberty of a body, in the offseason. There are no months for the remarkably versatile forward-guard, just a season and an offseason. During her time off, which this year began after her Chicago Sky lost in the semifinals of the WNBA playoffs (she sat out because of a thumb injury and subsequent surgery), Delle Donne and Amanda hightail it out of Chicago and back to the estate. They live there in a rustic-decorated apartment beneath what is known as the barn, a vast and high-ceilinged structure that hosts family get-togethers. In their apartment is the first dining room table they ever made, about a year ago. When Elena posted it to Instagram, the comments section went nuts with compliments and people asking if they could order one. That's when Elena and Amanda knew. Elena has always wanted to have a plan for a business post-basketball that wasn't about basketball, that wasn't about being 6-foot-5. This seemed like it could be it.
It's not that she doesn't like being tall. Her height is part of her success, which includes an MVP title in 2015. Because of the extreme nature of her height, she had to sort through her feelings about it a long time ago. But the weird thing about personal growth is that nobody cares how examined and at peace you are. A while back, Delle Donne was at a grocery store in Chicago and a guy said, "You're tall." She never understands that -- the people who just tell her what is obvious, as if she doesn't know, as if that's not what everyone says. He asked if she played basketball. "A little," she answered. And he started telling her about Elena Delle Donne, the greatest of all the women basketball players, the WNBA MVP, that she should try to meet her because maybe together they could do some great things. Delle Donne wondered whether he was messing with her, then decided he wasn't, and so she just nodded and let him speak.
She is accustomed to this. She's been 6-5 for a long time -- by eighth grade she was already 6 feet -- and one of the things she learned from standing out so egregiously is that people are watching and the best bet is just to behave. People sometimes think she's bland -- I was warned she was a boring interview -- but it's not true. What's true is that she has learned to stay quiet. She's learned that people aren't really interested in the truth of your experience if it doesn't confirm their theories about you. They don't understand what it's like when you present with something special, like height or ability -- or both, in her case -- how your future is decided for you long before you've had a moment to consider it. They don't understand how you could spend the rest of your life wondering if the choices that were made on your behalf were ones you would have come around to on your own.
In her first
The Audacity Of Height
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