SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – As strange as it was to see Donovan Mitchell not in a Jazz uniform at Vivint Arena Tuesday night, Mitchell himself was surprisingly at ease.
“I was really comfortable,” he said. “It wasn’t weird. It was just like I’ve been playing at home like I was for the past five years.”
Mitchell, who scored 46 points in the Cleveland Cavaliers 116-114 loss to the Jazz, said he didn’t know what to expect from the Jazz fans. But he was relieved when the pregame ovation was overwhelmingly positive.
“The reception was phenomenal,” said Mitchell, who spent the first five years of his NBA career in Utah before being traded to Cleveland this past summer. “I was appreciate of it from everybody. The tribute video was great. When you hear that and see everybody courtside wearing your jersey, screaming your name, that’s what allows you to feel comfortable and it was a sigh of relief.”
Mitchell certainly loved seeing his former teammates, like Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson, but didn’t really enjoy watching Clarkson score 11 straight points down the stretch as the Jazz pulled out a two-point victory.
“[Clarkson] had that look in his eye, and I was like, ‘damn, it’s going to be one of those back and forth nights,’ Mitchell said. “It sucks that he did what he did tonight, but on the flip side, I’m happy that he did what he did. It’s 50-50. I’ll probably kick his ass in Call of Duty or something.”
As for his relationship with the state of Utah going forward, Mitchell definitely ruffled some feathers with his stances on social issues over the years, speaking out things like the Black Lives Matter movement or Critical Race Theory. He said it was “draining” at times living in Utah, often calling out instances of racism. But he hopes he made a difference and that change will happen.
“I’ve just tried to use my voice to speak for people you guys don’t put a camera in front of because they don’t have that voice,” Mitchell said. “This isn’t going to happen overnight. I’m upset that I can’t be here to continuously speak on it. But understanding that we’ve done a lot of good here. Not just myself, but my teammates Mike, Royce, JC, Rudy, Joe, we can go down the line. We’ve done so much good to inspire change on and off the floor.”
Speaking of that group, Mitchell will always be thankful for them helping him become what he is today, a three-time NBA All-Star and true MVP candidate.
“A lot of what you’re seeing now was because of them,” said Mitchell, who is averaging a career-high 29.3 points per game. “Because they allowed me to be that guy at a young age. The same shots that I hit tonight were the same ones that I was missing my rookie year. They kept telling me to shoot and teaching me the ins and outs of the game. How to take care of my body, how to be a pro.”
Mitchell will be back in Salt Lake City next month representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA All-Star Game.
“It was just great to see everybody,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it relief that it’s over because, God willing, I’m here in a few more weeks.”