Definitely, being back home and back in New York is an experience I won’t forget. You never forget your first one. I’ll never forget it at all. —Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell
NEW YORK — As Donovan Mitchell Sr. arrived in the downstairs elevator through Madison Square Garden’s media entrance, his navy blue, gold and green Utah Jazz gear drew attention.
“Best of luck to Donovan tonight, but I hope he takes this L,” an event employee joked with him.
“You New Yorkers, I tell ya,” Donovan Sr. smiled, shaking his head.
The New York Mets’ director of player relations and community affairs sacrificed seeing his daughter Jordan’s first high school playoff soccer game at Brewster Academy to witness his favorite NBA rookie make his Madison Square Garden debut.
His son, Donovan Mitchell Jr., made his way into town Wednesday as a member of the Utah Jazz. He described the experience as a “dream come true.”
“It’s going to be crazy,” Mitchell predicted.
Donovan Sr. enjoyed the action from Lexus Suite 51 on the arena’s seventh floor with numerous other family and friends. Nearly 200 folks, including Donovan's mother Nicole, were in town just to see No. 45 for the Jazz as he posted 19 points, four rebounds and three assists in a 106-101 loss to New York.
“It’s been exciting to watch,” Donovan Sr. said. “Ever since he was a little kid, he wanted to be in the NBA or the major leagues, but his work ethic always set him apart from the other kids.”
On the opening play of the game, Mitchell wowed fans with a soaring two-handed alley-oop flush from Ricky Rubio en route to posting 17 first-half points.
“That’s how you start the game,” a random fan yelled.
In the second half he went cold, though, with just two points on 1-for-7 shooting as New York adjusted its defense.
Mitchell entered The World’s Most Famous Arena averaging 20 points for the month of November to lead all rookies while also posting the most 20-plus point games among all first-year players.
His locker room nametag may read Greenwich, Connecticut, but he was actually born in Elmsford, New York, and he spent the majority of his life there — outside of high school in Connecticut’s Canterbury School and Brewster Academy, then in college at Louisville.
“I spent 16 years in New York then the last five in Greenwich, Connecticut so I claim both,” Mitchell said. “I played basketball in Manhattan.”
Mitchell’s fandom seems to be growing at every stop as his confidence increases.
He has been praised by NBA stars such as Chris Paul, Paul George, DeMar DeRozan and most recently Jimmy Butler after matching up with the Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star in Monday’s loss while posting 24 points.
"That kid can play, man,” Butler told Spencer Checketts of 1280 Sports radio. “He can shoot it, he's athletic, he guards. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. I'm a fan for sure."
Knicks coach and former Jazzman Jeff Hornacek has also been checking him out from afar. Hornacek recalled the Knicks inviting him to a pre-draft workout and being blown away with his poise.
“He’s a strong kid, he knows how to play and just watching tape of games now, you can see he’s got little tricks that veterans acquire after some years,” Hornacek said. “He’s stepped right in there and plays with confidence.”
Mitchell is aware of the tricks that Hornacek is referring to, but wouldn’t willingly divulge those.
“I’m positive he told me about this during the workout,” Mitchell recalled, smiling. “I won’t say what they are right now, I’ll kind of leave them, but I remember that from when we had the workout.”
With his father working for the Mets, Mitchell has been around the MLB organization for much of his life, but can still recall his first memory of watching a basketball game at Madison Square Garden.
“The first game that I remember is Blake Griffin playing for the University of Oklahoma in a classic game or whatever,” he said. “I remember he did an off the backboard, between the legs dunk in warmups.”
As his career progresses, maybe some kid will describe his first game at The Garden in vivid detail. It’s only the beginning.
“Definitely, being back home and back in New York is an experience I won’t forget,” Mitchell said. “You never forget your first one. I’ll never forget it at all.”