How WNBA stars like DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree balance parenting in the bubble

Some do it live, others use Facetime, all share their tricks with The Next

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DeWanna Bonner (24) of the Connecticut Sun shoots the ball against the Los Angeles Sparks on July 30, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via GettyImages)

DeWanna Bonner had been here many times before. No, it wasn’t a vintage performance that previously won her two WNBA championships and three Sixth Woman of the Year awards; the ones we’ve seen in the first week of the new season. Nor was it the stubborn rehab she undergoes in the often brief rest between games.

Her twins, Cali and Demi, turned three Monday. You could see and hear Bonner’s exuberant joy when discussing them. They are close—at least physically. While Bonner and Indiana Fever’s Candice Dupree are in the WNBA’s bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, the twins they are co-parenting are an hour away. It’s a unique situation: The distance while small is impossible to close, but the time spent away is shorter than usual. 

The twins’ birthday falls right in the middle of the normal WNBA season. Bonner has yet to make a celebration due to prior All-Star obligations and now the COVID-19 pandemic that has led players to sequester at IMG’s campus; some players opted to bring their children and others chose not to. It’s almost a routine by now—although Bonner vows to make a birthday soon—that the party, in part planned by her, turns into a virtual experience. The twins, she said, couldn’t care less.

“They were having so much fun,” Bonner told The Next last week. Their third birthday party included a bouncy house, a water slide, “tons of gifts,” friends and custom-made cakes with their favorite characters; right now, that’s Blue’s Clues and Ryan Kaji from the YouTube channel Ryan’s World. The twins are old enough to be affected by a break in their routine—something they wouldn’t have been able to keep up in the bubble—but still young enough to not fully realize Bonner, or Dupree’s, absence when they can be distracted with some of their favorite things.

“It was really hard but I get joy out of them getting joy,” Bonner said. “They had a great birthday and a great time.”

Bonner and Dupree will spend at least seven weeks inside of the bubble, unable to have any physical time with the twins. There’s an emotional toll; it’s on the minds of WNBA parents who don’t have their children currently with them. But in the same breathe Bonner tells you how difficult it may be, she’ll instantly switch into mom mode: putting her emotions aside, focusing on the task at hand. 

“They're at a point in their life where they need a little bit structure and school has been in their life like for the last year so I didn't want to interrupt that,” Bonner said prior to the start of the season. “They have a routine that I didn't want to knock that off track, but [it was] definitely tough leaving them.”

It was a sad day. Bonner was used to the time away from a number of international stints playing in the WNBA’s offseason. “It sucks that I can't,you know, just hop in the car and go see them or anything like that,” she said. “But hey, they are good kids. They've taken in stride with it and call me on FaceTime all the time, so it's pretty cool.”

There are a number of players who have their children with them in Florida. Los Angeles Sparks’ Candace Parker has her 11-year-old daughter, Lailaa. Bria Hartley, of the Phoenix Mercury, brought her three-year-old son, Bryson. Las Vegas Aces’ Dearica Hamby’s daughter, Amaya, 3, is also in toe. Bonner’s teammate, Bria Holmes, has her daughter with her; Diona, or D or more affectionately Baby D, just celebrated her second birthday. Sun player development coach Awvee Storey has his 11-year old daughter, Avery, with him too. 

Bonner, however, wasn’t alone in her decision to go to the bubble without the rest of her immediate family. Mercury’s Diana Taurasi’s son, Leo, 2, and wife, former Phoenix Mercury assistant coach, Penny Taylor, are home in Phoenix. 

“Candice and I are constantly thinking about them and their well-being and we just felt that it was best for them to stay at home with their nice big pool in the backyard, go to school with their friends,” Bonner said a couple of weeks before the twins’ birthday. “If they were a little bit older, we probably would have considered something different.”

Teams have embraced the new content that comes from the closeness of the bubble. Holmes’ daughter went viral before the season officially started. “She's more of a star than me right now,” Holmes, who is in her fourth season and second with the Sun, said. The different parenting dynamics within Connecticut’s team is just a fraction of what some players have to go through in any given season. 

When Bonner was still in Phoenix, and Dupree in Indiana, the twins would split time on each coast. Now, in Connecticut, the travel time is cut in half but when Bonner is an ocean away, most recently playing for Czech Republic’s USK Praha, part of EuroLeague Women, the lengths she will go to try and find that perfect balance that will never be quite perfect seep into this shortened WNBA season. 

Bonner will jump on the phone as soon as the practices are over. She FaceTimes her daughters multiple times a day. She’s playing some of the best basketball of her career the first week of the 2020 season, but getting little rest in games and limited recovery time between them.

“It's the amazing story that we have so many mothers in our league, it's probably not written about enough on the grind that they go through it, but still their No. 1 job is being a mom,” Sun coach Curt Miller said last month. “The emotional strings that are being tugged at her knowing her children are not very far away, yet she can't leave campus to go see them has got to be just an emotional toll. You really respect DeWanna’s decision that her children have a structure. 

“This is a true story for our other players to know that there are sacrifices, you know, it's not about them. When you have children, it's not about yourself anymore. So, the really incredible life lessons for the rest of our players watching them be mothers.”

Each dynamic is different. Holmes wanted her daughter with her because she doesn’t get the same opportunity when she’s overseas. Bonner was able to look to family nearby to help with the twins. It’s more than impressive that either, or any parent in the bubble, is able to balance both. Holmes had to divert her attention from a wailing baby on the sidelines of practice—it turned out some of the Sun’s first practices were when Baby D would normally have a nap—to the court. Bonner has to quickly switch into mom mode, which is never a mode that is completely off.

They are able to compartmentalize with the best of them; they have to. There are only 144 roster spots in the WNBA. Mother or not, you only make it to this league if you are the best of the best. One fortunate upside to this extremely unique season is how quickly it will pass.

“We know that they're well taken care of and they have a great time so that kind of gives us a little bit of confidence and relief,” Bonner said. “From there, we’re just counting down the days to get back to them.”