Charles A.Smith Jr.
Potomac Gardens Housing Project
Formerly of Ward 7(ward 6), Washington, D.C.
In the summer heat, hordes of tourists walk along Capitol Hill, marveling at their proximity to power and the faces on their dollar bills suddenly appearing raised in stone. I grew up in the shadow of those statues in the Potomac Gardens Housing Projects. It’s only thirteen blocks away from the Capital building but it’s an entirely different Washington.
Washington D.C. is a city permanently cloaked in cultural and political enigma. Taxation without representation. Equal parts the Nation’s capital and ‘Chocolate City.” In this claustrophobic setting, it’s the passionate characters who stand out and earn our attention. We rejected Michael Jordan’s sterile corporate image and supported Marion Berry legendary loyalty. Political attack ads be damned: real Washingtonians demands authenticity.
🎧 Shook Ones Part II by Mobb Deep #LLProdigy # Infamous 🎶
[Ques the mic.]
...Keep your ’s open...
...Watch my back...
...I got your front...”.
Let me introduce y’all to Elena Delle Donne, Small Forward for the Washington Mystics and amateur basketball legend from right up U.S. 50 in Delaware. Slim, she can boogie! You need a bucket; give shawty the ball. Best forward we’ve had since Alana Beard. Last February’s trade put one of the league’s best in the Verizon red, white and blue. She chose to leave a contender for a team that made its only trip to the conference finals fifteen years ago.
Welcome and now let's get acquainted...
Ella Della Donne is the most complete forward since Candice Parker and she has been proving it to us for a decade. By her junior year at Ursaline Academy in Wilmington, she was averaging 28.1 ppg as a McDonald's High School All American. She was a perimeter player with a cerebral, complete offensive game with the dexterity and athleticism of a 6'5 center to match. Sure, she was the top ranked player in her class and led her school to three straight state championships but when you are a truly once-in-a-generational talent, that’s what is expected of you. Anything less than destiny is a failure.
Fast forward through a decade of highlights…2nd overall pick in the 2012 draft…2013 ROY…2015 MVP…2016 Gold Medalist…and you see the bullet points of a Hall of Fame speech.
But from then ‘till now wasn’t quite storybook. There’s a different narrative here. One where everything didn’t quite go as planned. That’s the Delle Donne I see. It’s why this marriage between player and city is so special.
Being the best high school player in the country and Geno Auriemma’s top incoming recruit for the UConn juggernaut was a whirlwind; her life was an accelerating conveyer belt of expectations (H/T 40 Million Dollar Slave by William C. Rhoden) without her input into the end-product. So, after two days at UConn, she left.
She took the year off at home to regroup. On her own terms, she eased onto the basketball team at the University of Delaware. Life as a UD Blue Hen was different from the pressure-filled bubble in Storrs. The team was not a national contender and Delle Donne regained her generational touch in front of small crowds in cramped college gyms. I remember the last game she played against James Madison. It's in Central Virginia. Not exactly a basketball hotbed. In Washington, we would say "she cooked." I recall thinking to myself "why is nobody paying attention to this?"
The once-in-a-generation narrative doesn’t account for an especially close bond with her sister Lizzie who has cerebral palsy and is deaf and blind and who can only communicate through physical touch.
It doesn’t explain the chronic fatigue, stiffness and pain that was finally diagnosed as Lyme disease.
Coming out publicly in Vogue last summer to announce her engagement wasn’t part of the cookie cutter plan for greatness that was thrust upon her as a high schooler.
After a few years in Chicago, she has returned to the Metropolitan Washington Area as both the player we always expected her to become and a woman who has continued to defy expectations.
A sprained ankle has her watching from the sidelines. Statistically, she has had the worst season since her rookie year. The Mystics have made the playoffs but have not made the leap to contention that we'd hoped for. As a Washingtonian and basketball purest, I offer an olive branch on behalf of the city she chose to inherit last February.
As a young melanin man in the city, there were times where I saw past the pain of being seen as something I knew I wasn’t. I felt that way when I was at the ‘Phone Booth’ watching Agent Zero, Ivory Latta, and Antawn Jamison play. I didn’t feel that divide for two hours, when everyone, black or white, was cheering for their team. Both Washington’s team.
We know we have our problems in this city. And that watching a game won't solve them. But we're not going to let outsiders walk onto our court and disrespect us. We're not rocking like ice cream. Ice cream melts in the heat.
Elena, you are basketball excellence and your hometown fans will never let you forget that. Get comfortable. We’ve waited long enough to know that the journey to the top for Washington basketball is worth the wait. You’ve proven that you know how to express yourself in your own way. You took time off TWICE because you felt burned out; You forced your way home TWICE, leaving the GOAT in Connecticut and the endorsements in Chicago. You know what you need to succeed on your terms. It’s time to show out.