WASHINGTON — As the Utah Jazz’s private plane touched down in New York during the wee hours of Tuesday morning, “The Ruler’s Back” by Jay-Z was blasted upon the request of Donovan Mitchell.
In many ways the song was symbolic of the occasion.
As a young boy, Mitchell would often survey the action from the nosebleed section of Madison Square Garden but has returned to face his hometown Knicks on Wednesday as a rising star.
Reminiscing on those days of watching Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire and Jason Kidd from atop of the World’s Most Famous Arena brought a huge smile to the 22-year-old’s face following a 19-point performance against the Wizards on Monday.
“I remember just going and being all the way at the top at the rafters, watching the games,” Mitchell recalled. “Watching (New York) Rangers games, which was a lot of fun as well, watching the Harlem Globetrotters in there, going to concerts.
“I’ve literally done every possible thing you can do in Madison Square Garden,” he added. “I can’t pick out one game for you, because it kind of all goes together, but I think just being able to be in that arena is just something special.”
Mitchell was born in Elmsford, New York, the son of Nicole and Donovan Sr., who is currently the director of player relations and community affairs for the New York Mets. He spent 16 years in New York before moving to Greenwich, Connecticut, so he continues to claim both, but the Big Apple is home.
“I think Donovan’s the most happy out of everybody,” said Jazz swingman Royce O’Neale. “He’s going home but it’s a great experience, another competitive game that we’ve gotta look forward to.”
Mitchell enters Madison Square Garden averaging 23.5 points, 4.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds in his second season. The Jazz (41-29) are riding a four-game winning streak with Rudy Gobert being named Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday.
In Utah’s lone trip to The Garden last season, the Jazz fell 106-101 to the Knicks as Mitchell put up 19 points, four rebounds and three assists in front of at least 200 family members and friends in the crowd.
The Jazz, however, dominated New York 129-97 in their first game of this season in December at Vivint Arena. As the Jazz are in the midst of their second stop during a four-game road trip, coach Quin Snyder isn’t as concerned about the road site as much as he is stressing execution.
“As much as anything, our focus I just want to be — whether it’s here or The Garden, home or wherever we’re playing — I just want us to focus on getting better and I feel like tonight offensively we had a little bit of flow, and every game’s a lot more fun when you’re moving the ball and playing that way,” Snyder said after defeating the Wizards. “So we’ll keep doing that and do it there, too.”
As happy as Mitchell is to be home, he’s also enthusiastic to truly appreciate the experience of returning to the same place he developed those lifetime memories as a child in the nosebleed seats.
Now, he’s front and center of the NBA action while cherishing the moment.
“At least this time I can process a lot of it,” Mitchell said. “I think last year the whole trip was really just a blur to me. I think this year it’s more relaxed and I’m just excited to see friends and family but also excited to play in The Garden. My mindset is just to get focused. I’m kind of more laid-back and more controlled. I think it’ll be great and I’m excited for it, too.”