SALT LAKE CITY — “Donovan! Donovan!” a young fan screamed, among a herd of others trying to catch the attention of the Utah Jazz’s franchise player.
On a hot, 92-degree summer afternoon, Donovan Mitchell pulled up to the Park Place parking lot — adjacent to Vivint Arena — on Monday to surprise everyone participating in the Jazz’s 3-on-3 Tournament as part of the Summer League festivities.
The crowd grew so thick that security had to clear a path for Mitchell to skirt off in his stylish white Audi ride.
“I just wanted to come by,” Mitchell explained, before taking off. “I saw that it was here and I thought it was pretty cool. If I was a kid, I would die if my hero came to this. I kind of wanted to be able to do that. This (tournament) is dope. I hope we continue to do this.”
Whether he’s making impromptu appearances at local 3-on-3 tourneys, attending the NBA Finals, NBA Draft, worldwide Adidas trips or strolling the red carpet at the NBA Awards, the 21-year-old continues to win over fans with his infectious personality.
After his record-breaking rookie season, Mitchell has literally been around the game non-stop while shedding any negative perception that a young African-American baller can’t thrive in this Utah market.
“For me, my biggest thing is I don’t look at it like that,” Mitchell told the Deseret News. “I’m just trying to impact kids' lives in any way I can and fortunately the year I had, kind of brought a lot of light to that.
“I’m trying to keep it as positive as possible,” he continued. “There are a lot of people who have power to do things and I just want to keep it right and keep it in that frame of mind by going to 3-on-3 tournaments for little kids or whatever it may be. Just trying to make sure kids understand that I’m here, I want to be a part of the community and I love it here and they wear my jersey and I see it so I want to go out there and make sure they know it while finding ways to bring brightness to their day.”
Fans might even notice him and Royce O’Neale on the bench offering tidbits to members of the Jazz summer league team and even taking control of some huddles. In the opening game versus San Antonio on July 2, Mitchell was often in Utah’s 21st overall pick Grayson Allen’s ear during timeouts with encouraging words and tips.
“He genuinely wants to help me,” Allen said of Mitchell. “A lot of it was little stuff after plays and after timeouts when I was coming over. He would have one little tip for me. Most of it was on the floater or on a little bounce pass that I could make, some defensive footwork when guys are trying to come off ball screens.”
Jazz two-way player Georges Niang says it’s no front, either. That’s just Donovan being Donovan and guys aren’t surprised by his contagious spirit. It’s rather normal.
“The way he acts, I said this to someone when the season ended, you wouldn’t think he’s a rookie,” Niang said. “When I was with the Jazz, he would set up team dinners, he’s always bringing and pulling guys together and I think that’s just the type of person he is and his mature ways.
“I think he’s mature beyond his years and he genuinely cares about everyone he’s around and I think that’s what makes him so special so when you have all your eggs in line you don’t have to worry about anything else and you can direct people in different directions just because he knows what’s going on.”
Even with all the attention he’s bringing to the Jazz after making a second-round playoff run, the Western Conference has certainly gotten better. With LeBron James heading to the Los Angeles Lakers, Paul George re-signing in Oklahoma City and DeMarcus Cousins agreeing to a one-year deal with the Golden State Warriors, the Jazz have been relatively quiet, outside of Mitchell, in the national spotlight.
Sure the team has re-signed Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, and Raul Neto, but some members of the media already doubt the Jazz to make another postseason runwith all the recent free-agent moves. Mitchell has faith in his squad, though.
“We think we have more of a comfort level and we think that’s gonna help off the floor as well as on the floor for sure,’ Mitchell said.
Now that Mitchell’s “media tour” — as Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey described — has ended, the former Louisville star is finally settling back into a normal offseason routine. On June 19, he announced via Twitter that he was cleared for basketball activities after injuring his left foot in the postseason versus the Houston Rockets and has been active around the practice facility lately.12 comments on this story
His mission is bigger than hoops, but he knows that the game is what got him to this point and he takes basketball seriously. Not only is this offseason pivotal for Mitchell, it’s just as big for the Jazz as the franchise is pushing to restore that winning tradition and their leader is fully on board.
“It’s just big for me because I know what I can do now and I think for me it’s just going out there and just finding ways to get better and improve,” Mitchell said. “Forgetting last year even happened and moving on to this year because last year is in the past and we’ve got a lot more expectations this year for us and for myself so I’m just excited to go out there and get better and go from that.”