SALT LAKE CITY — If Utah Jazz fans read only one article outside of DeseretNews.com this year, make it be the one Donovan Mitchell wrote — and his mother thoughtfully edited — for The Players' Tribune.
It's as fun to read as watching Spida dunk.
Here are some highlights:
• Mitchell says he used to wear a leash as a toddler. His editor, Nicole Mitchell, corrected him. "It was not a leash! It was harness." Whatever you call it — and they humorously went back and forth about that — the restraining device was necessary because the kid ran wild when his mom took him to the department store.
"I had to keep him in check! If he saw a nice open space, he was gone," his mom wrote. "Don got calmer with age, and he graduated to the little wrist leash. I’m sure the world loved me for it."
Mitchell missed an opportunity to either say "You said leash! Told you so!" or to jokingly correct her, "Wrist harness."
• Mitchell used to dance on tables — listening to Kenny Rogers, of course. He still might, but that wasn’t discussed. "No evidence," he rebutted. "Lies." He also left handprints on the arch in his childhood house from slapping it while pretending to dunk.
• His mom, a teacher, was skeptical about his NBA career. She wanted him to get a scholarship, sure, but she was also adamant that he focus on class more than the court. "I never believed he’d make it," she admitted. “I mean, what are the odds? I know that’s bad for a mother to say, but I was all about education."
• Mitchell got grounded from basketball for a weekend because he faked his way through a recital of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, much to the chagrin of his mom. She told him he needed to take his studies more seriously and be the humble kid he’d been. As fate had it, that happened after he broke his wrist and missed an important summer of AAU basketball.
• College wasn’t a cakewalk for him. "I’m probably not supposed to say this, but the truth is, there were so many times when I thought about quitting basketball, even when I was at Louisville. My freshman year, I shot 18 for 72 from three."
Mitchell would sometimes cry in his dorm, exchange texts with his mom and then retreat to the gym, even in the middle of the night while his friends were partying. After one 3 a.m. shooting session, he sent his mom a message, “Don’t worry. Pretty soon, you’ll never have to work again."
• Mitchell credits a text from his 13-year-old sister Jordan for firing him up again after a rough start to his sophomore season and getting news from Rick Pitino that he wouldn’t be starting against Indiana.
"She was bringing up all these little moments from the past," he said, "and it just did something to me."
• That moment changed his life. But even before the NBA Draft, people he trusted said they weren’t sure if he was ready yet. His confidence skyrocketed after playing against Chris Paul and Paul George and hearing them tell him, "You’re ready."
• Mitchell also elaborated on the beginning of his NBA career with the Jazz, including how he asked to not be told where he was headed in the draft. He wanted to be surprised. And he was definitely surprised when guard-heavy Denver selected him. He didn’t know he’d been traded to Utah until told during an ESPN interview. He breathed a sigh of relief.
"It’s no disrespect to Denver at all, but it was a much better fit in Utah," he wrote, "and I absolutely fell in love with the city during my workout with them."
His mom was also thrilled. "I was just praying, Keep my baby far away from New York, L.A. and Miami! He needs a stable environment! I was very pleased with Utah. Very pleased."
Mitchell said his love for Salt Lake City is real. "I know guys in the league say, 'Oh yeah, I love X, Y, Z city.' But man, I genuinely love Utah. The way that the city embraced me as a rookie is something that I didn’t even think was possible."5 comments on this story
• Mitchell has big plans for the future. "More than anything, I want to have a lasting impact on this city and this community. One thing that I know just from my own personal experience is that this is bigger than basketball. My legacy has to be more than that."
• This story has a happy ending. Mitchell fulfilled a longtime dream of buying his mom a house by his friend’s huge family home in Greenwich, Connecticut.
"She fulfilled her own dream. She’s a teacher there now. As a matter of fact, she works with the nursery school kids," he wrote. "And man … I really pray to God that they’re not as extra as I was."