Inside The W: Bonner’s Journey From New Mother To WNBA Semis

DeWanna Bonner’s life looks a lot different than it used to.

One-year-old twins will change a lot of things – how she spends her “free” time, her ability to take a quick afternoon nap, being able travel without worrying about what’s happening at home, workout time, sleep time.

Yet, DeWanna Bonner’s game is starting a look a lot like it used to. In fact, it could be argued that it is as good as it has ever been.

Her postseason has been nothing short of spectacular. She is averaging 25.4 points and 12.4 rebounds a game in the postseason. She has four double-doubles in five postseason games so far this season, barely missing going 5-for-5 with a 21-point, nine-rebound effort against Seattle in Game 2. She leads the WNBA in minutes played during the postseason (3rd during the regular season) and Mercury coach Sandy Brondello jokes that sometimes she forgets to pull Bonner out of the game.

“I forget she’s not a machine,” Brondello said.

Friday night, she saved the Mercury from the end of their season, picking up the slack on an off-scoring night from Diana Taurasi. With big-time help from Yvonne Turner, starting in place of injured Stephanie Talbot, Bonner put up 27 points – 18 of those in the first half – and 11 rebounds to extend the series to Sunday’s Game 4 against top-seeded Seattle.

If Taurasi and Brittney Griner are the biggest names on the marquee for the Phoenix Mercury, Bonner is nudging hard for them to make room for her as well.

After Friday night’s win, Bonner said that coming back to professional basketball after the birth of her twins in July of 2017 was the hardest thing she’s ever done. She said it felt like “starting from scratch.”

“I didn’t know when I would get back to my playing shape, and I really didn’t understand the process,” Bonner said. “If somebody would have told me beforehand how hard this would be, I might have said ‘No.’ I cannot do it. It’s been such a journey.”

We have reached a point in time where elite-level athletes are sharing their experiences about coming back to reclaim their careers after having children. Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker talked recently on the HBO show “The Shop” with LeBron James about how she was told that her career might be over after the birth of her daughter Laila after her first WNBA season.

Tennis superstar Serena Williams has been open about her struggles to round her tennis game into form after a difficult childbirth experience and the demands of new motherhood.

Bonner has had her own experience, giving birth to twins last July and then putting her game back together in time for the 2018 WNBA season.

It has not merely been a matter of sleep – though she has had plenty of days when she came to practice after being up all night. But regaining conditioning and stamina, and letting go of old routines in favor of unpredictable days and nights. Bonner said she has let go of the idea of having a set routine.

Bonner said it was midseason before she felt truly herself on the floor.

“I was winded, my defense was terrible, I was still having little aches and pains here and there,” Bonner said. “I hadn’t taken a hit, and when I took a hit, it hurt. And there is not one day where I can say that I’ve slept through the night.”

“She wasn’t DeWanna at the beginning of the year. She showed glimpses, but fatigue sets in and she couldn’t fight it as much,” Brondello said. “As she got better conditioned, she could fight it. Fatigue wasn’t a barrier for her. She’s a fighter and she shows me her toughness every day.”

Bonner was at the WNBA All-Star Game when her twins had their first-birthday party, and she insisted to wife Candice Dupree that the party go on without her.

“I got to Facetime in with them and see them mess up their cake and open gifts and all of that,” Bonner said.

She joked earlier this season that road trips were something of a reprieve from the constancy of mothering twins. The twins, Cali and Demi, are with Dupree now in Florida. It has been several weeks since she has seen them. And Dupree will be playing overseas in China this winter, with the babies staying behind in the States.

Brondello is the mother of two. But she did not have her children until her professional career ended.

“There are the highest-level athletes,” Brondello said. “Being a professional athlete, it’s hard. DB has come into practice and said, ‘I hardly slept at all last night, the babies were up all night’. And they only want mom. I know what that’s like. It’s your responsibility. She is just amazing to me. She impresses me more and more because of that. Your mind changes. Maybe it gives you more balance. It just not all about basketball.”

But on the floor, Bonner is not only focused, she is the best version of the unique talent who has a profile like no other player who has ever played in the WNBA.

The versatility. The length. The quickness, strength and athleticism. Her ability to shoot from long-distance and slash to the basket. The defensive mismatches.

“Her skillset is really about her picking and choosing her moments on when to use her advantages,” said Seattle guard Sue Bird. “And that is what makes her different.

“What’s challenging about her … they have three great players, but what makes her a little different from Diana and BG, is that they don’t run plays for her to do X, Y or Z. She just has the ability to break and play and make a play and do things randomly. You can’t scout a play. She is just making plays.”

Mercury guard Briann January is in her first season with the Mercury. She said Bonner has been “amazing.”

“She is phenomenal. It is absolutely fun to watch her,” January said. “I get a front-row seat to watch what she does and sometimes she blows me away. Just her versatility, her mobility, the finish, the rebounding. It’s made such a huge difference for our team and how we are playing. She is playing out of her mind.”

For Bonner, balancing the demands of her parenting life and her basketball life has become obvious now as it was mysterious just a few months ago.

“That was before, and this is now,” Bonner said. “These are my kids. They totally need me. Going to do whatever I need to do to be there for them and if I miss sleep, I miss sleep. And I will do whatever my team needs when I’m here.”