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Known for her 84-inch wingspan (normally that of a seven-footer, not someone who is 6-1), DeLisha Milton-Jones uses her disarming personality and her anatomical aberration to its full advantage. She has won two Olympic gold medals (2000 and 2008) and two WNBA championships (2001 and 2002). Milton-Jones is also a three-time WNBA All-Star and one of the longest standing members of the league with nearly 13 seasons to her credit.
But in this interview, she tells Inspiring Athletes that who she is on and off the court are both reflections of her desire to love people, serve God and give her absolute best in everything she does.
Chad Bonham: How has the WNBA changed over the duration of your career?
DeLisha Milton-Jones: It’s funny that I’m considered a veteran because I don’t feel like one. But if you look at my years of service, I guess I am one. I like to consider myself young at heart and ageless (laughs). The league itself is so much more competitive than it was in the beginning. You don’t just have one or two players that can win a game for you. Now, the parody in the league is so close that you need three, four or five great players in order to be successful. The days of one or two players dominating the court are over. The talent level is unbelievable. We have some great young talent coming into the league and it’s like they were born stars.
Bonham: Is it comical or annoying when people talk so much about your wingspan?
Milton-Jones: I have been known for my wingspan since day one and I even make some jokes about myself to other people about it. I say that when my mom gave birth to me, they pulled me out by my arms instead of with the forceps. That’s how my arms got stretched out of proportion. Everybody likes to poke fun at it but I get a lot of joy from it. My college coach told me, “You know what biggin’? Don’t worry about it. $10,000 per inch. You’ll be okay.” They can joke all they want.
Bonham: How does your wingspan help your game?
Milton-Jones: I definitely use it on the defensive end more than I do offensively. Defensively I keep them coiled up so I look like the normal, average player out there. When people get comfortable and put the ball in front of me, the forget that my wingspan is as long as it is and before they know it I’ve the ball out of their hands and we’re going the other way. They might think they can get a shot off but then I’ll come out of nowhere. I might be five feet away but they forget I have an extra two feet of length and I can still get a hand on that ball.
Bonham: How do you balance being aggressive on the court and being a Christian athlete?
Milton-Jones: There was a point in my career when I had some rather in-depth conversations with Lisa Leslie and my husband and even my mom. It really did bother that people would view me as a dirty player when I’m just highly competitive. I’m going to use every inch or every margin that I can within the rules of the game to my advantage. Some people look at me and think I’m doing too much. But I’m just willing to do whatever it takes to win. That was something I had to grow into. There was a time when I wasn’t as sound as I am now and I would let certain things bother me so much that it would cause me to do things that probably wouldn’t be pleasing in God’s eyes and probably wouldn’t set the best example as a Christian. I would go home and ponder on that and feel bad and my heart would be broken. But if I’m not being competitive then I just feel like I’m getting punked while I’m out there on the court. How do you get to the point where you’re competitive but you don’t lose your godliness. It took me some years before I got it all down pat. You can go out there and push and fight and shove with the best of them but nobody gets you to the point where it makes you think ungodly things or say ungodly things or do ungodly actions. Once I was able to put a harness on that and control it, a change was about to come about.
Bonham: What was the defining moment in your faith journey?
Milton-Jones: I was always brought up in the church. Church was the thing for me. The fellowship and the message that was given and singing in the choir and singing the solos and really listening to the words that you were singing and seeing how it affected people was huge for me. At the age of 11, I had a near death experience. I almost drowned in our town’s recreational pool during the summer. I learned at an early age that every breath that we take is borrowed. We need to be thankful for our life and never take it for granted. That made me look at life from a totally different standpoint. You really need to give us much love as you possibly can. Be kind. Be of service to people, not for you to gain anything but just out of pure love. That’s what people are lacking, that pure genuine love. People don’t give that as much as they should. That’s what Jesus was all about, just pure natural, no-strings-attached love. And that’s how I really want to live my life.
Bonham: How has playing overseas impacted you?
Milton-Jones: I experienced a lot of spiritual growth when I started traveling to Europe and playing basketball. I saw that just because I was away from home didn’t mean Jesus wasn’t with me. 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.
Bonham: What is your message for WNBA fans, especially young girls?
Milton-Jones: It’s okay to be different. Sometimes being different is not going to be the most popular thing. But you have to be confident in you and what you know is right and stand firm. You may lose friends over it. Families may even split up because of it. But that’s the price to pay. That’s the cross to bear when you really live your life for Christ. I try to tell them that when it comes to spirituality, a lot of people may shun it. It’s okay to be a radical for Christ. It’s okay to stand up and be heard and not be shy about being a Christian. You don’t have to be boastful or get in people’s faces but 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.
DeLisha Milton-Jones is featured in Chad Bonham’s latest book Glory of the Games that includes stories about 18 past and present Olympians such as Shannon Miller, Tamika Catchings, Josh Davis, Ryan Hall, Dave Johnson and Kevin Durant discussing various biblical principles that have helped them succeed as elite international athletes.