Synonymous with beauty and luxury, while also being the hardest natural stone on earth, diamonds are formed under extreme heat and high temperatures. Carbon atoms undergo a violent process and yield a clear substance valued all across the world.
Diamond DeShields believes her name suits her well. At 26 years old, the Chicago Sky guard has had her share of highs, lows and criticisms—most of which she’s not quite ready to discuss.
“Honestly, if I had to sit here and talk to you about it, we would be on the phone for a few hours. So it’s been, it’s been a lot. But, for me, to just be out on the floor right now playing basketball is the most gratifying thing I could have ever experienced,” DeShields tells WSLAM.
What she is willing to share is her basketball bucket list for the next five years:
1) Be a WNBA MVP contender
2) Be an Olympian
3) Win a WNBA Championship
And so beins a journey to unearth the rare talent of Diamond DeShields.
There isn’t any particular story behind her name. Although, as the eldest daughter of Tisha and Delino DeShields Sr, it was a guarantee her first name would start with a “D.”
“All of my siblings’ names start with the letter D, so that’s a real thing in my family.”
Delino Jr is the eldest, followed two years later by Diamond. D’Angelo, Denim and Delaney round out the other DeShields siblings. While her name may not have any special meaning for her and her family, it does evoke specific thoughts, emotions and even song lyrics.
“I love to hear it!,” DeShields exclaims. “Just hearing the word ‘diamond,’ you hear it so often. It’s cool to have it be a reference for so many different things. I’ve embraced it, the different meanings of the word and what it can represent.”
“I think that it fits me perfectly because of all the things that a diamond has to go through. All the obstacles and the pressure and the process that it has to go through. I think that it’s very in line with my life story and all the things that have happened so far.”
Athletes raised DeShields. Her mother was an All-American heptathlete at Tennessee and her father played 13 seasons in the MLB and is currently the Cincinnati Reds first-base coach. Sports are the family business. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that coming from such a pedigree brings intense pressure. However, that’s not how DeShields describes it.
Being in a home of professionals primed her for the next step, elite NCAA basketball. Playing at the University of North Carolina, DeShields won ACC Rookie of the Year and earned All-ACC First Team and ACC All-Freshman Team honors during the 2013-14 season. Wearing No. 23 in baby blue, she averaged nearly 18 ppg for the Tar Heels and helped UNC to the Elite Eight.
Her stellar rookie season would be the last she played at UNC before transferring to her mother’s alma mater, Tennessee. DeShields was humble and gracious but also vague about her decision which left her vulnerable to criticism. She expressed she was unhappy at UNC but kept any other details to herself.
The transfer to Tennessee cost DeShields a year of eligibility, but it was the right decision then, as she took advantage of the time to get surgery to alleviate severe pain from a stress fracture in her left shin. At Tennessee, DeShields went on to add SEC All-Tournament Team (2016), AP All-SEC Second Team (2015-16) and WBCA Honorable Mention All-American (2016-17) to her list of accomplishments before forgoing her final year of eligibility. But, once again, DeShields fielded criticism for her decision.
DeShields told ESPNW she was “content with every decision that I have made. I know my heart, and I never done wrong by nobody.”
She said goodbye to what she called a mediocre college career and went to Turkey to get her first taste of professional women’s basketball. By the middle of her next professional season, DeShields was in New York City for the 2018 WNBA Draft, where the Chicago Sky selected her third overall.
DeShields shone brightly in her rookie season, averaging 14.4 ppg and 4.9 rpg and making the All-Rookie Team. She followed that year with a standout season, averaging a career-high 16.2 ppg and bringing down 5.5 rpg while starting all 34 games. She garnered her first All-Star bid and capped off the weekend by winning the All-Star Skills Competition. And best of all, she helped the Sky snag their first playoff berth since 2016.
As was the case for many people, 2020 deflated DeShields progress toward her three goals. To boot, her departure from the Bradenton wubble again sparked a conversation about her fitness, dedication and the like. So the “bullshit,” as Diamond calls it, had some impact on her, but she’s still not ready to reveal to what extent. Not entirely, not yet.
“I have a story, and I’m waiting on a moment. I’m waiting on a moment to tell it when I feel comfortable. But for right now, it’s still being written out. So I’m very much still in the process.”
As of this writing, DeShields has started all 22 games for the Sky after playing in only 13 games last season coming off the bench.
“I think her level of intensity has been at an all-time high…She’s probably not at 100 percent, but she’s close to it,” Sky head coach James Wade told the media on August 13. “She’ll find a rhythm, and you’ll continue to see growth in her as time goes on.”
Halfway through the 2021 season, DeShields is inching closer to her 2019 stat line. But how close is her best compared to this season’s MVP pace?
If we look at the last three WNBA MVPs—A’ja Wilson, Elena Delle Donne and Breanna Stewart—DeShields is a few percentage points off their MVP season numbers. Wilson averaged 20.5 points last season, about 4 more than DeShields in 2019 (16.2). Additionally, the three most recent MVPs shot at least 46 percent from the floor; DeShields is currently averaging 40 percent.
Achieving WNBA MVP has historically meant a trip to the Olympics. DeShields has won Gold medals with USA Basketball on multiple occasions, including the 2019 FIBA AmeriCup, 2015 World University Games and the 2012 FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup. All signs point to her being on track to make an Olympic roster sooner than later.
While the omission of former WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike called into question the transparency of the USAB selections system, DeShields says she knows where she stands.
“I heard a lot of good things about my chances as far as being on this past team. Obviously, it didn’t happen. But I get good feedback from all the coaches, so I plan on doing everything that I can to put myself in a position to have it be so obvious that you need to have me on that team, that you can’t deny having me.”
DeShields’ third and final goal is to win a WNBA championship. The Chicago Sky hasn’t reached the conference semifinals since 2016, and therefore never since the new playoff format was introduced in 2017. In two postseason appearances, DeShields and the Sky are 0-2. However, with every year, the team grows more experienced, and experience matters in the WNBA.
Take this season. The Chicago Sky were 1-7 while former MVP and two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker was sidelined with an ankle sprain. Then, in their final 10 games before the Olympic break, the Sky went 7-3, including a franchise-best seven straight wins in June.
Parker is a huge help, but DeShields quickly mentions other veterans like backcourt duo Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot.
“Candace is an extra emphasis on, like, the little things, and the mindset and competing. But we have veterans on our team, and I don’t think they get enough credit for what they do and the way that they lead us. Honestly, part of the reason why I am who I am in the League right now is because of Sloot and Allie.”
She’s leaning into the journey. “I’m doing all the right things. So, it’s only a matter of time. What does Joel Embiid say? Trust the process. I live by that. Trust the work, and the results will come.”
The Chicago Sky sit in sixth place as we went to press, good enough for a first-round bye but not good enough to skip single-elimination altogether. That doesn’t matter much for DeShields. After being on the brink two years in a row, she sees no reason Chicago can’t find their way to a playoff series.
“We just have to believe in each other, trust in each other, trust in James, trust the system, trust the schemes. I don’t see why we couldn’t. I don’t see why not.”
DeShields believes that all of her goals can be achieved in the next five years. After that, we shall see where the universe takes her. She’s shown an interest in fashion, is a spokesperson of affordable eye care in partnership with Oakley and feels strongly about athletes developing multiple streams of income. Her days of playing overseas are coming to an end. Instead, DeShields will focus her offseason on real estate.
“I’m like a month or two out from obtaining my real estate license in the state of Illinois. Real estate is something that I enjoy, whether it is as an agent, broker, or as an investor.
“I don’t want to be one of those players that’s like, Oh, shit, like, what do I do now? But, you know, because you see it, you see it so many times, you know? I want to be smart about my money, smart about what I’m doing with it, where I’m putting it, where I’m investing.”
These next five years, on and off the court, are all about adding value to her legacy. So we asked again. What does her name mean? How does DeShields embody the rare beauty of a diamond?
“You know, I think that I would probably be the opposite of it,” she says. “All my life, I thought I was special. But, the reality is, when you go through life and you get humbled in some of the ways that I have, I just feel like everybody’s special. I hope that when it comes time for me to tell my story that I can encourage somebody. Everybody goes through pressure situations, but, I feel like there’s a diamond in all of us to be discovered, you know?”
Go behind the scenes with Diamond, Betnijah and Arike for their WSLAM 1 cover shoot!
Portraits by Raven B. Varona. Follow Ravie B. on Instagram, @ravieb.
Action photos via Getty Images.