Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. This week she speaks with Chicago coach Pokey Chatman, whose team has dropped seven of its past nine games as it wades through injuries and excused player absences. The Sky opened the season at 5-1. Chicago is playing without leading scorer Elena Delle Donne (21.2 points), who is out due to Lyme disease.
Seattle Times: All-Star Elena Delle Donne, the Rookie of the Year last season, was excused to go home to Delaware for further Lyme disease treatment. How was that decision made?
Pokey Chatman: It’s been an ongoing conversation since she arrived here (in 2013). It’s just out in the public now because it’s during our season. It wasn’t a hard decision. She can get some time off and get her infusion, change her antibiotics – everything that she needs to do.
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Q: Her symptoms have been managed before, and this is her first flare-up since the original diagnoses after graduating from high school?
Chatman: First time. She’s an MVP athlete. It’s frustrating. But it’s a lot tougher on Elena because there’s a mental, physical and emotional component. We just want to be supportive and let her do what is necessary right now. I know it’s difficult for the public (to understand) and you want to kind of educate them because it’s not a matter of, “Oh, rest her” or don’t practice because it’s not a pulled muscle. I talked to (a reporter) about doing an article just so people are aware. Sometimes we assume people know.
Q: You have another player in forward Jessica Breland who’s a five-year cancer survivor (Hodgkin’s lymphoma). Does that help pool support?
Chatman: Players have experienced so many things, maybe not like a Lyme disease or cancer with a teammate, but definitely with someone’s family or coach. You have this innate coming together, stepping outside yourself and compassion for people. It helps.
Q:The cold side of Breland’s situation is she was cut from the league in 2012 as she regained strength from treatment. Could that be a decision you have to examine with Delle Donne?
Chatman: The future is now. In terms of drafting players and their abilities, you have to deal with everything. My glass is always half full. It is something you always look at long-term but in the moment you measure the things that captured your attention with these particular players and you move accordingly. That’s what we’re doing.
Q: With Jessica, you’re benefiting from her fight to return to the star she was pre-cancer, now averaging 13.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. I heard you ordered an expensive drink to celebrate signing her in free agency?
Chatman: I was having a late lunch when I got the phone call. I said (to assistant coach Christie Sides), “Breland’s coming!” Christie gets up, goes to the manager and gets a Macallan 25-year-old single malt scotch. It wasn’t even on the bar, it was in the back. A single shot was probably about $30.
Q: That’s some celebration. Sounds better than the poorly-marketed Pride game the WNBA aired June 22 between Chicago and Tulsa on ESPN2.
Chatman: I am (a lesbian). I don’t ever talk about my personal life, but I don’t ever try to hide it either. Someone thanked me and at first I didn’t understand what they meant. But with this organization, it’s just another day at the office. We have people who want to get married at our games. It’s never, “Oh, my God!” or a big deal. We’ve (always) had our Pride night, the floats, parade and promotions. So, I didn’t even know it was a league platform this year. (That game) in this community felt good and looked good, it was a big deal and people were so appreciative. To hear you say it didn’t look like that on TV makes me sad. From the inside looking out, people were really proud.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.