Remember This Name: Delisha Milton-Jones
Her inspiring story.
You don’t know Delisha Milton-Jones. You might think you do, but your perception is likely far off-base.
Known as “D-Nasty” on the basketball court, Milton-Jones plays the game with unabashed passion. She’s aggressive. Fiery. Voracious. Won’t back down from anyone.
But that’s not the real Delisha; it’s her alter ego. You might even describe it as her own, unique version of “Sasha Fierce.”
The real Delisha is humble, gracious, and giving. She loves to smile and help others. More importantly, her life story of overcoming adversity is remarkable and needs to be told.
Simply put: Delisha Milton-Jones is the most underappreciated and underrated player in WNBA history.
Born in 1974, Milton-Jones was raised in Riceboro, Georgia, a small town not far from Savannah. It’s a slow, peaceful town. She was always a happy and active child who spent the majority of her time outdoors and at the recreation center near her home.
“As a kid, I remember going to see my dad play in the local recreation league,” Milton-Jones fondly recalls. “I didn’t really know exactly what was going on but I enjoyed just watching the action. There was always something to look at besides the ball or even my dad. I think this is when I truly fell in love with the game. Although, to be completely honest, the pickles and popcorn had a lot to do with me loving the games as well.”
However, it was at this same recreation center that Milton-Jones came close to losing her life. At age 11, she nearly drowned while playing in the public pool. To this day, people will tell you it’s a miracle she’s alive. Rescued at the last possible second, that moment would change her outlook on life forever.
“My near-death experience with drowning paved the way for me to become the player and person I am today,” she recalls, still affected by the trauma of it all. “That experience taught me that every moment from that day forth had to be lived to the fullest. As a result, this also affected how I practiced and played. Some who really don’t know me always mistake my on-court efforts as being overzealous but in my heart I’m just making the most of every second I’m out there. Because of that incident at the pool, I’m the type of person who will give you the shirt off my back. I love to see people smiling and comfortable around me. I love being of service to others.”
Looking back, this was a major turning point in Milton-Jones’ life. It solidified her faith in a higher power, gave her an appreciation for life, and forced her to grow up much faster than children should. Ironically, a sense of immediate peace and comfort would consume Milton-Jones. Along with that harmony, however, came a mindset of perseverance and determination to fulfill her dream of playing professional basketball. It wouldn’t take long for her to utilize her newfound (or, as some have referred to it, divinely inspired) skill-set when she entered middle school just a year later.
“My experience in middle school is the thing that made my hunger and passion grow for the game,” says Milton-Jones. “My coach at the time wouldn’t play me even though my drive and determination was unheralded at our school. The young girls that did get to play weren’t even interested in the game; they were more into cheerleading and boys. I would sit on the edge of my seat every game and emphatically beg the coach to put me in but she would always say, ‘Delisha, wait your turn.’ It took a long time, but I made the most out of it when my turn did come; I scored all our points and grabbed all the rebounds. Not kidding. That game was my coming out party and after that, the local high school would allow me to practice with the varsity squad my sister was a member of. Needless to say, I improved real fast.”
Milton-Jones played high school ball for the Bradwell Institude in Hinesville, Georgia. Before graduating in 1993, she had the rare distinction of being named the Naismith High School Player of the Year twice (1992, 1993). This would lead to an athletic scholarship at the University of Florida in Gainesville where she would play for the Florida Gators women’s team from 1993 to 1997. Leading her team to four-straight NCAA Tournaments, Milton-Jones was selected as the SEC Player of the Year in 1997 and was an Associated Press All-American. Under the tutelage of head coach Carol Ross, Milton-Jones started turning heads with her versatile play on both ends of the court.
“In college, Carol Ross allowed me to spread my wings and develop my post play,” Milton-Jones says. “I had a blast while at the University of Florida. Luckily, my play caught the eye of many GM’s and coaches in the ABL and WNBA.”
Selected by the Los Angeles Sparks with the fourth overall pick in the 1999 WNBA Draft, she would start all 32 games as a rookie while shooting 53 percent from the field. Just a year later, in 2000, Milton-Jones was named to her first All-Star team and would win a gold medal as part of Team USA at the Summer Olympics in Sydney.
The enigma begins here.
To date, currently in her 13th season, Milton-Jones is 6th all-time in total steals (523), 8th all-time in total minutes (11,577), 9th all-time in total made field-goals (1,685), 11th all-time in total points (4,536), 11th all-time in total rebounds (2,096), and 13th all-time in total blocks (283). She has captured two gold medals with Team USA basketball (2000, 2008), been named to the WNBA All-Star game twice (2000, 2007), won two WNBA Championships (2001, 2002), and amassed over 20 Euroleague titles in various countries.
But she continues to get overshadowed. Why?
“Looking over my career, I have been so blessed to play alongside some of the game’s greatest,” says a reflecting Milton-Jones. “We literally had teams with four out of the five starters being All-Stars. The blessing in this situation is that no single person had to carry us; all we had to do was allow the ball to find the open player and success would come. The curse in this situation is that it’s so easy to be overlooked because of the greatness that surrounds you at every position. Getting 12 to 14 points on our squad was average and would allow you to miss an opportunity to make an All-Star team, but those numbers on any other team would get you great recognition and accolades.”
Make no mistake about it; Milton-Jones doesn’t play the game for recognition or fame and her accomplishments don’t need validating or justifying. But it’s hard to think of another player who has achieved so much, yet received so little credit. Greatness comes in many forms and one of Milton-Jones’ best qualities is her humility. It would be easy for her to hold a grudge and have a chip on her shoulder. Amazingly, even if you take away what she has done in the WNBA, there are few (in any) who have performed to the level Milton-Jones has overseas.
“I’ve been fortunate but I’ve worked incredibly hard for it,” Milton-Jones says of her stellar career across the pond. “I’ve been blessed to win over 20 European Titles in different countries as well as participating in five Euroleague Final Fours, winning two of them. Out of all of them, the last title is the sweetest. We were a team that no one thought had a chance because our budget was astoundingly low compared to our competition but we came out on top. It was a classic tale of David versus Goliath and I simply loved being the underdog that would shock the world of European basketball. The small team from Brno Czech Republic defeated the powerhouse team from Samara, Russia.”
So, what now?
Milton-Jones isn’t one to whine or complain. After all, there isn’t much she can do about her lack of recognition other than continue to play the game at a high level. Has she been unfairly overlooked simply by being on the same team as legends like Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, and Candace Parker? Probably. Has it changed her as a person? Not a chance. Recently, she was selected as one of the 30 official nominees for the Top 15 Players of all-time in the WNBA. The nominees were selected by a panel comprised of media members and basketball experts, with consideration given to such factors as on-court performance and ability, leadership, sportsmanship and community service, as well as to contributions to team success and the overall growth of women’s basketball. That, in and of itself, is a huge honor for Milton-Jones.
“I can say that from being a teammate of hers, no one works harder on getting better each day at the game of basketball,” says fellow All-Star, Lindsay Whalen, of the Minnesota Lynx. “There is a reason why she is a gold medalist, World Champion, and a WNBA Champion. She has earned everything she’s received. From a personal standpoint, it has been great being her friend and I am looking forward to reuniting with her this winter in Prague for another Euroleague season.”
Through her compelling journey, her husband Roland Jones has been right by her side as an invaluable resource both on and off the court. A former collegiate and European player, Jones has been instrumental in furthering her game to a new level. When she talks about him, she can’t help do so with a huge smile on her face. Not surprisingly, it’s easy to see how much she loves and is thankful for him.
“If there is one person I need to give credit to for helping me, it’s my lovely husband,” Milton-Jones says while grinning. “My game truly took a different course when we met 11 years ago. With him being a guard, he helped develop my mid-range game along with my three-point shooting ability. He embedded in me that it is crucial for me to return every year with added weaponry so that I could become more versatile and, in return, have longevity in the league. He would spend countless hours in the gym with me patiently showing me the ropes. I owe him the world for all he has done in helping me become the player that many people either love to hate or love to have on their team.”
Maybe she will get the mainstream attention she deserves. Maybe not. But in the end, Milton-Jones will know what she brought to the table either way. She has shown no signs of slowing down and says she’ll play the game until the wheels fall off; that’s how much she loves basketball.
“I want to be remembered as a fearless leader and relentless competitor who did whatever it took for her team to achieve greatness,” Milton-Jones says of her legacy. “I want to be known as the ‘Unsung MVP.’ I’m always told that I’m the glue or the engine that makes the team go and that my work dictates just how successful we will be. I try to set the tone as to what our identity will be on both ends of the floor and try to keep the camaraderie on and off the court together. My role on any team I play for isn’t as cut and dry as others may experience. It can be difficult at times but it’s definitely one that I accept with open arms.”
She possesses a rare combination of grit and finesse that isn’t seen in the WNBA very often. Perhaps more direct, there has never been a player in women’s basketball quite like Delisha Milton-Jones.
Don’t take her for granted.