DeLisha Milton-Jones: My Retirement Letter

After 17 seasons and a WNBA-record 499 games played, two-time champion DeLisha Milton-Jones has announced her retirement. Before she embarks on the next phase of her career as an assistant coach with the Pepperdine University women’s basketball team, DeLisha says goodbye to her playing days.

MORE: Milton-Jones’ Career By the Numbers | Photo Gallery

Dear Basketball,

I’ve toiled over writing this letter for months now, but I’ve finally come to terms with announcing my… retirement! It feels funny to say the word without getting emotional. Basketball has been a part of me for almost half of my lifetime. If I could play forever, I would do it without hesitation. There’s nothing like being a professional athlete. I took a lot of pride in calling myself one.

I always thought of leaving the game as a sad moment, but now I realize it’s a celebration. It’s all about perspective, right? Well, from my point of view, I’d say celebration is the perfect word to use.

I gave the game every ounce of me to the point of complete destruction and rebuilding… literally! I played the game so hard for so long that I now walk away with two titanium rods in my shins and a replaced ACL, MCL and Achilles tendon. I would give all of those body parts up again for a chance at reliving my 17 years. One thing’s for sure: The undying love I have in my heart for the game will never leave. Father Time is still undefeated, but I gave him a run for his money.

As I make my exit from the game, I truly feel like a proud parent walking away from her child as she goes off into the world. I watched you grow into a beautiful being that many have come to admire. You stood the test of time when the world was against you. Teams folded, rumors swirled and many questioned whether we could play. In those moments, your true identity took form. You became a beacon of light for women all across the world, summoning them towards you. We came, we saw and are continuing to conquer. For this very reason, I’m forever excited to leave the game into the hands of those after me. Maya Moore, Skylar Diggins, Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, Nneka Ogumike, Breanna Stewart and the rest of the league’s latest generation, the task is now yours to develop her into a complete woman.

Within my tenure in the WNBA, I’ve had the honor of playing with some of the game’s best: Lisa Leslie, Penny Toler, Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson, Tamika Catchings, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Dawn Staley, Candace Parker, Yolanda Griffith, Angel McCoughtry, Katie Smith, Alana Beard, Ticha Penicheiro, and more… I’ve beat them, they’ve beaten me, but in the end, we all won because we were a part of something very special — a league to call our own.

To Renee Brown and Bonnie Thurston from the league office: The two of you deserve a moment in the sun. I’ve worked with you all personally from day one. Your longevity in this league shouldn’t go without recognition. Thank you for being individuals I look to as professionals and friends. We are 20 years in and you all are a major part of it. Thank you for contributions in allowing many of us to call ourselves pros.

To my coaches throughout my career: Janet Reddick (high school), Carol Ross (college and pros), Lin Dunn (ABL), Michael Cooper (Sparks, Dream), Bill Laimbeer (Liberty), Nell Fortner (USAB), Joe “Jellybean” Bryant (Kobe’s daddy — Sparks), Dan Hughes (Stars), Jennifer Gillom (Sparks), Karleen Thompson (Sparks) and Richie Adubato (Mystics), thank you for your patience, expertise, and most importantly belief in me as a person and a player. Each one of you will forever be a part of my coaching philosophy as a way of paying homage to each of you. Coop, although we had our heated moments and you ran about two years off of my legs/career, thank you for the tough love! It made me a better player and person.

To my USA Basketball family: Carol Callan, Caroline Williams, Jim Tooley, Craig Smith, Ed Ryan, Kelley Hardwick and Rachel Shannon, you all watched me grow from a young, inexperienced teenager into a savvy adult. Thank you all for the wonderful experiences in some of the most remote places basketball could ever have taken a person.

To the trainers and managers: Navin Hettiarachchi (Mystics), Courtney Watson (Sparks), Michael Douglas (Dream), LaTonya Holley (Stars) and Thomas Archie (Sparks), you all took care of me like none other. From the late nights washing clothes and making sure my every need was met, to helping me come back stronger after injuries, I’m forever in debt to you all. What you all do behind the scenes is priceless.

To all of my opponents that I rubbed the wrong way and the countless referees I gave gray hairs: I’m sorry for allowing my passion for the game to get the best of me. Being misunderstood is never an easy thing to deal with, but just know there’s no love lost, and I have the utmost respect for each and every one of you.

Ilene Hauser (Nike), thank you for always providing me some of the fliest kicks Nike had to offer and the wonderful dinners I ran the bill up on. You’ve been a mainstay with Nike and the WNBA. Your work and the relationships you’ve built over the years will last a lifetime. I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything.

Brian Lee (Reebok), we go wayyyy back, homie. Thank you for my very first commercial and for keeping me laced for many of my years in the league. What you and Ilene have done for me and my household will never go unnoticed.

To my agents, Mike Cound, Tom Cross, Nicolas San Jose and Josep Martin: I thank all of you for showing me the money (LOL). We worked closely together for 15 years and it’s a pleasure to be able to call you all my friends. I was always put in very comfortable situations from Europe to the States simply because you all cared more about my well-being than how much money I could make you all. Thank you for thinking enough of me to do that.

To the fans: Wow! You are a special group of individuals. This league wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for your undying love and support. Many of you have been here from day one. I’ve watched your children grow with this league. Each and every one of you deserve to be recognized for your love of the WNBA. For this reason, I took pride in making sure I stopped to talk, take pictures and sign autographs. I have the utmost respect for you. I’m definitely going to miss all the love that’s been shown. From the nuns that sat behind the bench at Mercury games back in the day to the Liberty fans showing you love even if you’re the opponent, thank you all for the great memories.

To my beloved Sparks fans, I give you a special shoutout because the majority of my career was played in front of you and for you. You’re family to me. I love the fact that I know many of you by your first names. We are forever connected through our TWO championships we won together. Those moments together will never be forgotten. Mad love to you all from SUNSHINE! Special shoutout to Larry Burnett a.k.a. “The Voice” and award-winning broadcaster for the Sparks. I simply love you and the professionalism you’ve shown over the years. You are the very reason the fans fell in love with me. You helped shape my identity in L.A. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for always greeting me with a smile and a kind word.

I’ve been in this league for 17 out of the 20 years it’s been in existence. I’ve had the distinct opportunity to see three generations of players come and go. With 499 games played (most in WNBA history), I can proudly say that I never took a day off, let alone a single play in the games or practices. It’s been a thrill and an honor to call myself a professional for so long. I’ve won championships on American soil and abroad, made All-Star teams and won Gold Medals. None of this would’ve been possible if it weren’t for the sacrifices my mother, Beverly Milton, made for my sister, Charmaine Gatlin, and I. I’m so proud to know that I’ve made you happy, momma, and that everything you did for us wasn’t in vain. Your strength and ability to persevere through every adversity a single parent of two could face taught me how to be tough, make no excuses and smile while going through. I love you dearly!

Lastly, to my ace, my love, my personal unsung hero, my husband, Roland Jones Jr…. We did it! Thank you for being there to wipe away every tear, and bring calmness and order to my life when I was under duress. I’m so glad I was able to share every moment of accomplishment with you by my side. You held my hand as I grew up while going through some very uncomfortable moments in my career. You saw something in me long ago, brought it to my attention, worked with me endlessly and as a result, I became a champion, an All-Star and an Olympian. You were in the gym shooting with me! While I enjoyed the spotlight, you took the brunt of criticism and backlash. It takes a true man to do that for his wife. Thank you for sacrificing your life and career in order for me to reach greatness. I’m so blessed to have you as my better half and best friend. The role you played couldn’t have been easy, but you did it with class and grace. You deserve the world and I love you for two lifetimes.

Pepperdine University, phase two of my life begins with you. I’m thrilled to be able to impact the game from a different seat on the bench. I promise to coach just as passionately as I played. Thank you, Dr. Steve Potts (director of athletics) for this monumental opportunity. Ryan Weisenberg, we won together with the Sparks, now let’s follow suit in the collegiate ranks. With Darron Larsen, Josh Pace and myself as the assistant coaches, Waves women’s basketball is in for a treat. #WavesUp

To our current President, Lisa Borders: The precedent was set a long time ago by Val Ackerman (the league’s first President) and the standard of excellence this league has lived by can continue for years to come. I have total faith in you and your supporting cast. Your intellect and passion will serve the WNBA well. Congratulations on your first year and I wish you and the WNBA 20 years more of success.