“Mama D” closing in on games-played record

Delisha Milton-Jones
Delisha Milton-Jones’ Atlanta Dream teammates call her “Mama D.” Photo by Sue Favor

In her storied career, Atlanta forward Delisha Milton-Jones has accomplished much. But now, the 17-year veteran is quietly closing in on a WNBA career mark for most games played.
Going into the All-Star break, Milton-Jones had played in 488 games – eight shy of the league record 496 that Tina Thompson had notched before retiring in 2013. A few weeks ago Milton-Jones eclipsed Katie Smith’s record of 482 games, and now has a chance to become the all-time games-played leader next month.

Milton-Jones, who turns 41 in September, is taking it in stride. Traded to the Dream from New York in 2014, she missed the last several weeks of that season after tearing her Achilles tendon. She sat out a few games this month as a precautionary measure, but returned to the court last week to help a team that has been struggling this year.
“We’re going though growing pains, because we had to start the season without certain people,” Milton-Jones said of team injuries and overseas commitments. “Then, just into the season, two of our players had to leave. So we hadn’t really had a chance to be a unit yet.”

Delisha Milton-Jones
Milton-Jones, center, has a regimen of self-care that she says keeps her young. Photo by Sue Favor.

“They’re trying to get me back into the rotation. So we’re still a work in progress.”
An All-American and Wade Trophy winner at the University of Florida, Milton-Jones was drafted fourth overall by the Sparks in 1999, where she helped the franchise win two championships. She was traded to the Washington Mystics in 2005, and traded back to Los Angeles in time for the 2008 season.

Milton-Jones spent time with the San Antonio Stars in 2013 before signing with the Liberty. She ranks tenth in the WNBA in all-time scoring, with 5537 points at the moment.

Delisha Milton_jones
Milton-Jones gets teammates pumped up during pre-game warm ups. Photo by Sue Favor.

She said going back to the Peach state was an unexpected blessing.

“I’m back home, being from Georgia, so I get to see my family a lot of the time,” Milton-Jones said. “It’s crazy how things work out. If I kept having my way, I’d still be in Los Angeles, but…..I’m back in Georgia for the end of my career. It’s a great thing for my family to see me more regularly. It really worked out.”

As the oldest player on the team, Milton-Jones’ role has changed to that of mentor, advisor and second mother. She said she enjoys it.

“Yes, I am old enough to be the mother of some of them,” she said. “They ask me anything ranging from relationship advice to basketball advice to family advice, financial advice – everything!”

“They respect me and respect what I have to say. Being around them is good for me too because it keeps me young. They tell me, ‘Mama D, you’re 40 but you move like you’re 22!'”

Milton-Jones has kept her vitality longer than most. She said she doesn’t take being on a WNBA team for granted.

“It’s gratifying for me because it tells me I’ve done a great job of taking care of myself and staying relevant,” she said. “I’m still trying to win this battle with Father Time. He’s going to get me eventually, but I’m trying to fight the good fight.”

The secret is self-care, according to Milton-Jones.

“You have to know your body, put good food in it, and definitely stay in tip top shape,” she said. “These girls coming out of college are coming out better, stronger and with a better skill set, so you always have to work on your craft.”

Games-played record or no, Milton Jones said age has given her priceless perspective on basketball.

“I’m enjoying myself, win or lose, I’m enjoying every moment,” she said. “When I was younger I’d be so stressed out if we lost. Now I’m just like: ‘yeah we lost, but we’re still able to play the game we love.'”