In 2020, doctors found a grape-sized benign tumor in her spinal cord and DeShields underwent a nine-hour surgery to remove the schwannoma. The ordeal gave her tremors and spasms from impacted nerves, but ultimately saved her life. When the 6-foot-1 guard awoke, it wasn’t clear what her future would be and she even considered retirement.
In the months that followed, she learned to run and walk again, and eventually became the world class athlete fans remembered. Less than two years later, DeShields led the Chicago Sky to the 2021 WNBA championship.
Perhaps what makes DeShields so relatable to teens is because her life has been full of highs and lows. Since age 15, she’s battled an eye condition and endured multiple other surgeries because of a condition called keratoconus that weakens her cornea. She understands what it means to persevere and overcome hardships despite any obstacle standing in her way.
Tuesday night in North Texas, DeShields joined the Dallas Mavs, Mavs Gaming and the Dallas Wings to meet with 40 girls representing the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Dallas at EVO Entertainment in Southlake to celebrate Women’s History Month.
The event, officially dubbed the WNBA 2K23 experience, was a part of the Mavs’ GEM program — which stands for Girls Empowered by Mavericks. Dallas Wings manager of team operations Amanda Miller also participated. Mavs Gaming is the official NBA2K team affiliated with the Dallas Mavericks franchise.
The Dallas Mavs launched the GEM program in 2021 to engage, inspire and empower young girls through physical activity as a backdrop to their continued development and success.
Both the Mavs and Wings discussed the importance of mentorship in women and productive ways to engage and support women in sports and esports. Following the panel, the group participated in an exclusive gaming experience at EVO.
DeShields, who is the sister of former Texas Ranger Delino DeShields, shared her passion for fashion, meditation and commitment to mental health causes.
She spoke to the girls with the wisdom of a big sister and exuded the confidence of one who understands what it means to persevere and overcome odds.
“We all have dreams and goals we want to achieve,” DeShields told the young girls who gathered. “If you quit, it’s impossible to reach your goals. Sometimes you have to pivot, sometimes you have to make a detour.”
She also said it’s better to have a little emotions than no emotions at all. In fact, she told the teens, the ability to be vulnerable and fellowship with others holds great power. There’s no shame in admitting that sometimes life is just plain hard.
“Just a brief backstory on me, I had a back surgery right before the pandemic,” DeShields explained to the youth. “I had to relearn how to walk, I was hospitalized for a few weeks and then the world shut down and I couldn’t go to therapy and see my doctors. I was glued to my couch and very depressed. I wasn’t in a very good head space. One of the things that I had to be okay with was talking about my feelings.”
She said therapy broke the door open for her because it helped her reflect and move forward. It taught her to establish an identity beyond the game.
“I honestly started to take life more seriously because if the world stopped again, what would I do, what would my value be?” DeShields explained.
“So I had to learn a lot about myself and do a lot of reflection and try to understand my identity better beyond a basketball player. When I walked in here, yall saw me as a basketball player, but even more, I’m a person. I like fashion, music, shoes, and I like talking to young women…The pandemic forced me to explore all the other hats that I wear.”
This is the second event DeShields has partnered with the Mavs in recent weeks. On March 8, she was the special guest speaker when the franchise hosted 500 female student-athletes at the GEM expo at Sheraton Dallas Hotel.
Dwaylon Whitmore is the Director of Teen Services at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Dallas. He said the panel was special for the dozens of girls he brought to the event.
“After listening to Diamond and Amanda talk, I could tell they were really engaged,” Whitmore said. “They were paying attention and you could hear a pin drop. They were hanging on to every word and now they are out there playing games and fellowshipping with everyone.”
He said the entire night was a blast for young and old alike.
“The Dallas Mavs, Mavs Gaming and the Wings have all been great,” Whitmore shared. “A couple times a year, they reach out with some great opportunities for our kids and we love to come out. They have been amazing partners with helping at Christmas, with Father’s Day events and mentoring and telling our kids about different careers and gaming and esports. It’s just been a whole gamut of things and I really appreciate everything we are able to receive for our teens.”
Tray Thompson oversees community relations for Mavs Gaming and he said the night was designed to make the teens feel loved and cherished by their hometown NBA, WNBA and NBA2K teams.
“Today’s program is important because the Mavs Gaming community wants to prioritize unifying others, whether it’s in traditional or nontraditional spaces,” Thompson said. “Programs like this give us the opportunity and flexibility to better serve our communities. The Wings dropped some gems and jewels to share information around the importance of women’s leadership, women’s mentorship and seeking mentorship if you don’t have one. The main goal and the main purpose is to bridge gaps and create a more equitable and unified world for all.”
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