When the Los Angeles Sparks need some defensive intensity and fierce, scrappy play, they call on their intimidator, “D-Nasty.” But if they’re looking for encouragement and a cheerful rallying cry, they turn to the teammate they affectionately refer to as “Sunshine.”
Fortunately for L.A.’s front office, the Sparks don’t have to waste two roster spots to fill both roles. D-Nasty and Sunshine are the same person: DeLisha Milton-Jones.
DeLisha Milton-Jones # 8
|Born: Sept. 11, 1974|
College: University of Florida
Years Pro: 12
•Two-time Olympic gold medalist (2000, 2008)
•Two-time WNBA champion (2001, 2002)
•Two-time WNBA All-Star (2000, 2007)
“On the court, I’m going to use every inch or every margin I can within the rules of the game to my advantage,” she said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win out there, but, if you look at my life, I try to be kind and help people. I just want people to be happy and enjoy life.”
Clinical psychologists might read that statement and argue that Milton-Jones is a case study for split personalities. In fact, she might have agreed a few years ago.
Milton-Jones admits that she once struggled to balance her passionate desire to aggressively mix it up on the court without damaging the integrity of her Christian witness. It took the counsel of close confidants such as her husband, Roland Jones; her mother; former Sparks teammate Lisa Leslie; and team chaplain Camille Wooden to help work out the internal conflict.
“It really did bother me when people would view me as a dirty player when I was just being competitive,” Milton-Jones said. “If I wasn’t being competitive, I felt like I was getting punked out there on the court. So, I had to ask myself the question of how to be competitive without losing my godliness.”
It was a question that took time to answer. But, over the years, Milton-Jones has finally come to a point of peace regarding her competitive side.
“I discovered that, through His Spirit, you can put a harness on the competitiveness and control it,” she said. “You can go out there and push and shove with the best of them as long as it doesn’t take you to the point of thinking or saying ungodly things and taking ungodly actions.”
There aren’t many people left who will honestly accuse Milton-Jones of such improprieties, but almost everyone has something to say about her most obvious physical attribute: an 84-inch wingspan. For anyone trying to work out the math, that’s seven feet of reach and almost a foot more than Milton-Jones’ 6-foot-1 frame.
It’s something she likes to joke about by telling people that she got pulled out of proportion at birth when the doctor pulled her out by her arms in lieu of using forceps. It’s untrue, of course, but it always gets a good laugh.
But it seems that all real jokes are on her opponents when it comes to her physical stature. Carol Ross, her head coach at the University of Florida, once told the star forward, “You know what biggin’? Don’t worry about it. Think about it this way. Those arms are worth $10,000 per inch. You’ll be OK.”
Milton-Jones has used those imposing appendages en route to a pair of WNBA titles with the Sparks (2001, 2002), two All-Star appearances (2000, 2007) and two Olympic gold medals (2000, 2008). Early in the 2010 season, she also became just the 14th player in league history to score 4,000 career points.
Still, her arms make the biggest difference on defense.
“I keep them coiled up so I look like the normal, average player out there,” Milton-Jones said. “When people get comfortable and put the ball in front of me, they forget that my wingspan is so long. Before they know it, I’ve gotten the ball out of their hands and we’re going the other way.”
Milton-Jones has been wreaking such havoc on the court since her high school days at Bradwell Institute in Hinesville, Ga., where she was twice named Naismith High School Player of the Year (1992, 1993). At the University of Florida, she carved out an impressive collegiate career that resulted in two First-Team All-SEC selections and a First-Team All-American nod. During her time in Gainesville, she led the Gators to a 91-34 record and four NCAA Tournament appearances.
It was also at Florida that Milton-Jones first experienced FCA by attending the weekly Huddle meetings, which were often led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel. Those moments helped fill a spiritual void that had once been occupied by Milton-Jones’ devotion to attending church back home. She’d been a Christian since age 11 and points to a specific divine circumstance as the moment of her spiritual awakening.“I had a near-death experience,” she states matter-of-factly. “I almost drowned in our town’s recreational pool during the summer, and, because of that scary situation, I learned at an early age that every breath we take is borrowed. We need to be thankful for our lives and never take them for granted.”
Coming face to face with eternity opened the door to her life’s mission: loving and serving others in the name of Christ.
“We really need to give as much love as we possibly can,” she said. “That’s what people are lacking—that pure, genuine love. We don’t give that as much as we should. But that’s what Jesus was all about—pure, natural, no-strings-attached love. And that’s how I really want to live my life.”
Throughout her international travels, Milton-Jones has been repeatedly reminded of God’s love. Like many WNBA players, she plays in foreign leagues during the offseason and has enjoyed spending time in places such as Russia, the Czech Republic and Spain.
No matter where she has been, though, one truth has remained constant.
“Just because I am away from home doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t with me,” Milton-Jones said. “He is everywhere, and you can see signs of Him in the most remote places in the world through people who don’t even speak your language. Jesus is universal.”
According to team chaplain Camille Wooden, Milton-Jones has been carrying the love of Christ with her into the locker room from day one. As one of the WNBA’s most enduring veterans, now in her 12th season, Milton-Jones’ approachable faith has facilitated consistent ministry.
“God uses her when people, especially her teammates, encounter her individually,” Wooden said. “That’s when they really see the true DeLisha and her real desire for God. They see that, while she’s not perfect, she still strives to serve God and please Him. That testimony is big. In this day and age, people want to see somebody who’s actually living out the Christian life.”
Milton-Jones’ seven-year marriage to Roland Jones, a former college and European basketball player, provides another example of how her life is a living, breathing example of God’s providence.
“I feel totally blessed that God sent me my soul mate,” she said. “Pride doesn’t get in the way of what we have going on. Roland supports me wholeheartedly in everything I do, and he even sacrificed part of his basketball career so that we could be together nonstop. That’s a luxury that I have being married to him.”
“...I had to ask myself the question of how to be competitive without losing my godliness.”
Her husband’s support also allows Milton-Jones to minister to the WNBA’s growing fan base of teenage girls. She especially enjoys the opportunity to share her faith with a generation that deals with the pressure to conform.
“It’s OK to be different,” Milton-Jones tells them. “Sometimes being different is not going to be the most popular thing, but you have to be confident in what you know is right and then be able to stand firm.”
Milton-Jones might be known as “D-Nasty” on the court, but she’s alright with that. It’s really her roles as “Sunshine” and as a positive exhorter that she truly embraces.
“It’s OK to be a radical for Christ,” she says. “It’s OK to stand up and be heard and not be shy about being a Christian. You don’t have to be boastful or get in peoples’ faces. It’s about being confident and knowing that, at the end of the day, no matter what happens, you’re taken care of. You’re covered by the Lord.”