Diamond DeShields just won the Italian League with Sandrine Gruda’s Schio and Kitija Laksa. While her team in Europe finished off the title, her team in the WNBA, the Phoenix Mercury, began the 2022 WNBA season without her with a loss against Las Vegas Aces, the brilliant project that has attracted Becky Hammon to her bench, who got tired of waiting for Gregg Popovich for an NBA franchise to dare to take the step of hiring her.
It is the life of many women’s basketball professionals, of course, accustomed to doing a double on both sides of the Atlantic because the seasons in the US are short and the salaries are very far from those of men’s sports. DeShields will join the team that took over her via transfer in the coming days when the shooting guard was clear that she did not want to continue being a substitute at Chicago Sky, a role in which she finished last season. One with a happy ending because it brought the franchise’s first title under its arm. After defeating, precisely, Phoenix Mercury in the Finals, and in the perfect ending for a perfect storythe one about the return home, to her native Chicago, by Candace Parker.
DeShields had played in Chicago since he was 3rd pick in the 2018 draft after being a high school sensation in Georgia and a college career that included a tremendous season in North Carolina and a move to Tennessee with, in addition, a final year in which he chose to play in Turkey with Cukurova (averaging 17.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists). In the WNBA he started big: he entered the Best Rookie Quintet and in the second season, in 2019, it was already all star (16.2 points per night, starter in the 34 games he played). Later, between stardom and substitution, between the Sky and the jump to the Mercury, Diamond DeShields saved his career after overcoming one of the hardest trances that a professional athlete can face.
Relearn how to walk, run, jump…
In January 2020, he went through the operating room to operate, a three-hour intervention that ended up being nine, a benign tumor but that was installed in a very complicated place in the spinal cord, where only “5% of cases” occur according to the neurologist who performed the operation, Edwin Ramos. The tumor, the size of a grape, compressed the nerves and the threat of paralysis was twofold: with intervention as soon as something failed, without it due to the development of the anomalous body itself. Afterward, the player (now 27) had to literally relearn how to walk and run. Not only that, but to recover the ability to do the things that a professional basketball player has to do: jump, defend, change direction and rhythm… After the operation, he had tremors and spasms that he could not control, and some of the nerves most affected by the operation were linked to his feetan area that happened to have hypersensitivewith a lot of pain.
Withdrawal was obviously a very real option, as Ann Crosby, director of operations at Chicago Sky, told ESPN: “The tremors would appear, they were so horrible that his whole body collapsed to the point that tears ran down his cheeks but he couldn’t speak. He couldn’t control his hands either and he scratched his face with them, so we had to try not to hurt him. You couldn’t even predict when those tremors were going to show up. Suddenly, they were there. When you entered his room you had to put on your best smile. But then… you got to the car and you felt like throwing up”.
She herself acknowledges the suffering she experienced in those weeks that followed the operation: “It hurt so much that my whole body contracted. She didn’t even control her arms.” Three months after the operation, in April 2020, he was still unable to run in a straight line or jump. His mobility was still not natural and as soon as he got tired, the spasms returned.
But, as the report of ESPN who has now brought to light the hell he went through, continued to work and managed to be with his team in that 2020 season that, due to the pandemic, was played in a bubble format, in Florida: “I needed my teammates much more than they needed me. My operation was mixed with the Black Lives Matter movement, the pandemic, loneliness and isolation… I needed the camaraderie, the support,” he says of a time when he wouldn’t even know if he could live up to the demands of a WNBA season. Before leaving the bubble due to an injury after receiving a knee to the thigh, he was able to play 13 games in which he averaged 6.8 points, still not fully recovered and with a lot of discomfort in his feet from the simple fact of putting on his shoes. Besides, she was the risk of tremors appearing in the middle of the game: “I was trying to get my emotions under control. Because if I got emotional, the spasms would come. Whether they were good or bad feelings, laughter or tears”.
The Sky trainers even set up an isolated area with a curtain, since the arena was not allowed to leave due to pandemic protocols, in case DeShields needed to isolate himself from the scrutiny of the games and television broadcasts. Y they had a coded gesture for her to let them know if she suddenly needed help when she was on the court, playing. Last season, 2021, he started it back in the starting five but, after 22 games, he went to the bench. In her team’s title playoffs, she averaged 5.5 points in 15.7 minutes on the court. One of her locker room leaders, point guard Allie Quigley, recognized her as an essential figure in winning the championship: “I told her that the title had started with her, three or four years ago. That it changed the culture of the franchise, that it changed the physical profile of our team. Y then he added the missing piece to the puzzle: how to overcome adversity”.
And she, who will arrive at this 2022 season already started but for the first time in a long time in physical fullness, has the highest demands on herself because she knows well the player she can be: “In the 2019 season, she was one of the top five in the WNBA. I don’t think there was no other better in my position then”.