June 1, 2024 

Diamond DeShields returns to basketball with a deeper calling

DeShields ready to share her extraordinary perspective with growing Sky squad

CHICAGO — Waiting for the 2019 All-Star skills challenge to begin, Diamond DeShields fluttered her fingers over the ball, ready to snatch it off its holder.

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The second-year Sky star was loose, smiling, completely in the spirit of the event. She won the competition easily, showcasing why so many expected her to become the face of the Chicago Sky franchise. Her athleticism, personality and early success stood out.

That season, DeShields led the Sky in scoring with 16.2 points per game and led the league in fast break points. Had it not been for Dearica Hamby’s miracle three-point heave in the playoffs against the Las Vegas Aces, DeShields would have led the Sky to its first Semifinals appearance since 2016.

Two years later, in 2021, the Sky won its first championship in franchise history. But by then, a difficult recovery from spinal surgery had altered the trajectory of DeShields’ career.

DeShields’ multiple comebacks have deepened her calling

After spending a year rehabbing a knee injury, DeShields returns to the WNBA with a new calling. It’s no longer just about winning championships or being a star. She feels called to share her perspective with the Sky team — a perspective rooted in multiple extraordinary comebacks to basketball.

In early 2020, DeShields underwent surgery to remove a tumor from her spine. In the aftermath of the surgery, she suffered through involuntary tremors. Intense physical therapy and training were necessary just to regain mobility. Still in pain and afraid of how her body would respond, she returned to the WNBA during the bubble season only months later.

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But fear sucks the fun out of playing, even for its most talented stars. Though she showed flashes of her joyful All-Star self, DeShields often looked deflated and disconnected from the flow of the game.

Over the next two WNBA seasons, DeShields looked on her way to getting back on track, albeit slowly. Despite the impact of residual nerve damage, her scoring average improved steadily from 6.8 points per game in 2020, to 11.3 in 2021 and 13.1 in 2022 (with the Phoenix Mercury).

Then cartilage issues in her knee forced her to take the 2023 season off.

During rehab, she cultivated a set of habits to ground her preparation for the next season. Morning meditation. Very little socializing. Leaning into her faith.

“I think it [faith] gives you a different layer of accountability to have in your life so that when things start to go awry, you are able to ground yourself instead of panicking,” DeShields told The Next.

“I’ve had to have a deep exploration of my faith. Sometimes I literally just ask God, like, why?”

“But when you are rooted in the word you get to look to it in those moments. Personally, I wouldn’t be here without it.”

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Though DeShields feels stronger than in recent years, the cumulative impact of her health issues may not disappear completely. In 2024, she signed to a one-year contract with Chicago, the organization she credits for sticking with her through tough times.

“I genuinely think that I’ve been put here in this situation to inspire and encourage people as they face their own hardships,” DeShields said. “This is not something I take for granted at all. That’s something I can have permeate the locker room, to create a sense of responsibility to the game.”

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Chicago Sky forward Angel Reese (5) celebrates with Chicago Sky guard Diamond DeShields (0) during a game against the Wings in Arlington, Texas on May 15, 2024 (Photo credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

DeShields’s perspective will resonate in Chicago, given that three other Sky players are also making WNBA comebacks. Chennedy Carter, the Sky’s most electric bench player, was waived by the Los Angeles Sparks and did not play in 2023. Isabelle Harrison, a veteran forward, missed the 2023 season with a torn meniscus. Kysre Gondrezick, a lottery pick in 2021, was waived by the Indiana Fever that same year. 

Could there be a better person to lead this team than Diamond DeShields?

Three weeks into the regular season, Sky players are already soaking up her wisdom and calming presence.

“When she says something [to the team] it’s always like ‘that was a perfect quote to say Diamond,’” said veteran point guard Lindsay Allen.

Gratitude meets heat of competition

DeShields has talked at length about her gratitude for being able to play the game. But an elite athlete’s competitive edge tends to challenge any feelings of contentment.

With a Sky roster lacking in established superstars, making a playoff run will require an all hands on deck effort. Each of the team’s key contributors must play at a high level — DeShields especially.

DeShields is one of few Sky players with the size and athleticism to guard elite perimeter players. She’s also one of the Sky’s few multi-level scorers, meaning she’s comfortable shooting at the rim, from mid-range, and from three-point land.

In the team’s opening series against the Dallas Wings, DeShields filled this role to a tee — even on a minutes restriction. She scored 15 points per game and forced Wings star Arike Ogunbowale into inefficient shooting nights. The Sky went 1–1 in Dallas.

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Then DeShields sat out with a foot issue against the New York Liberty. When she returned to the starting lineup against the Connecticut Sun, she struggled offensively, missing five of her six shots.

Frustrated, DeShields threw a towel at the bench.

Before the game, DeShields had written “Have Fun” on her shoes to remind herself why she’s playing. During the game, though, she told The Next she forgot to look down.

Staying true to one’s principles gets much harder in the heat of competition. Gratitude is powerful, but so is the frustration of playing below one’s potential. Fortunately, DeShields feels like she is in the right place to handle these challenges. According to DeShields, the team is developing the type of family feel that the Sky’s 2021 championship team prided itself on.

And DeShields feels connected to the team through faith.

“We have some believers [on the team] for sure, starting with [head coach Teresa Weatherspoon],” DeShields told The Next. “I’m very blessed to have a coaching staff and teammates who pray for me. Like laid their hands on me [and prayed]. For me that’s very, very rare.”

Written by Alissa Hirsh

Alissa Hirsh covers the Chicago Sky for The Next. She is also a high school basketball coach at her alma mater and is writing a memoir about the difficulty in leaving her college basketball career behind. Her hometown of Skokie, Illinois, is known for having the top bagel options in the Chicagoland area. Before joining The Next, she co-founded the Sky Townies.

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