DeLisha Milton-Jones stood on the Tennessee Theatre stage, beaming from ear to ear as she gave her speech at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony.
The only time the class of 2022 inductee broke her smile was when she took a moment to thank the WBHOF committee for voting her into the hall.
“You will never know how healing it is to stand on this stage to receive this honor,” Milton-Jones said in her speech, pausing as she got choked up. “Where many people have overlooked or under-appreciated my talents, you came along and you spoke for my career in a profound way. Thank you for recognizing my contributions and saying my name.”
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The overlooked career Milton-Jones spoke of included the 1997 Wade Trophy when she played at Florida, two WNBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, two FIBA World Championships and being selected as a WNBA All-Star three times. She also set the record for most games played in the WNBA, which stood until Sue Bird surpassed It in 2018.
“I found my niche by being able to be someone who’s an iron woman, who had longevity in this game,” Milton-Jones told Knox News. “There’s such an honor in knowing that I have stood the test of time, I was here from almost from the inception … I play a part in that, my name is in the history books, and it’s for good reasons. So it makes me proud.”
It was also a surreal moment for her because if things had gone differently 36 years ago, she wouldn’t be here. When Milton-Jones was 11, she nearly drowned in a pool, and everyone believed she was dead. She was revived by the lifeguard on duty, and Milton-Jones recalled that day as she wrote her speech on the plane to Knoxville.
“I’m sure the person sitting next to me was like ‘What’s wrong with this lady?’ because I was bawling my eyes out,” Milton-Jones said. “I could not stop crying because I was just so thankful. Thankful to be able to breathe. All because someone did their job.”
When Milton-Jones was in the hospital recovering, one of her cousins gave her a doll. The accident happened in July, so that’s what she named it. The doll is now sitting in the display case dedicated to the class of 2022 at the WBHOF.
Milton-Jones’ family was at the hall on Saturday morning, all donning shirts with her on it and her accolades. Her sister, Charmaine Gatlin, her mother, Beverly Milton and a crew of extended family filed through the line to get Milton-Jones’ autograph on their shirts.
As she toured the museum, Gatlin said seeing the doll in the display case was emotional for her.
“Seeing that made me replay that day, because I was there,” Gatlin said. “Going through all of those emotions to now, you know, here we’re celebrating her life. So it’s a full-circle moment.”
Gatlin was the one to call their mother, who believed her daughter was no longer alive when she arrived at the hospital. But a nurse told her she was going to be OK, and Beverly had a dream that night as she sat by Milton-Jones’ side.
“I had this dream that I was running out of my mother’s house and the more I ran, the higher I got up into the clouds,” Milton said. “And when I came back down, my arms was wrapped around Jesus Christ and told me then that everything was going to be all right, and with that, I knew.”
Milton-Jones’ family traded their shirts for formal attire as they filled an entire row at the theatre on Saturday night. Her husband, Roland Jones, escorted her and Milton-Jones took the time to recognize the man she said “stood in the shadows” supporting her throughout her career.
“You played your role selflessly while being the best supporting actor ever,” Milton-Jones said in her speech. “Your sacrifices, patience and knowledge are exactly what I needed, and everything within my life increased tenfold once you entered it … ‘It will be greater later.’ You always said that and I believed it, because I trusted you – and it has become greater later. Lovebug, we did it.”
She ended her speech short, simple and profound, a sentence she had been waiting to say her whole life:
“DeLisha Milton-Jones, 2022 Hall of Famer, out.”