SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – The Utah Jazz and Donovan Mitchell reunited on the court for the first time since he was officially traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in September. It was a game that saw Mitchell and the Cavs move past the Jazz, winning 122-99.
Mitchell spent five years in Salt Lake City with the Jazz, starting his rookie season in 2017. In those five years, Mitchell made a lasting impact off the court in the Beehive State. Mitchell established himself as a voice for the black community in Salt Lake City.
He wore a “Say Her Name” jersey honoring Breonna Taylor, reached out to the family of Utah’s Izzy Tichenor, a young Black girl who committed suicide after being bullied, and engaged politicians on Critical Race Theory.
In the interview, Mitchell said it was no secret the things he had to deal with while in Utah, and that a lot of it was “just draining.”
“I’m not saying specifically every fan, but I just feel like it was a lot of things,” Mitchell told Spears. “A [Utah] state senator [Stuart Adams] saying I need to get educated on my own Black history. Seeing Black kids getting bullied because of their skin color. Seeing a little girl [Isabella Tichenor] hang herself because she’s being bullied.”
Mitchell said it was one thing after another while he was in Utah, and while he admitted Utah wasn’t the only place it happened, the amount of pushback he said he received while advocating for racial equality “was a lot.”
“I took on a lot because I felt like I could do it,” Mitchell said. “But at some point, it became a lot to have to deal with.”
Mitchell said it started after posting a photo for Juneteenth, which said “Free-ish.” Mitchell said he had people pushing back.
“People just starting nonstop going at me like, ‘Man, you don’t know what you’re talking about. There is injustice everywhere. It’s not just Black people,'” Mitchell said in the interview. “I’m just like, ‘Y’all have no idea.'”
Mitchell said the racial inequality he faced became a lot to deal with on a nightly basis, recalling a time he got pulled over and reportedly “got attitude” from a cop until he gave him his ID. He said the interaction made him wonder what happens to young Black kids in Utah that aren’t able to just say “This is who I am.”
Of course, it wasn’t all bad for Mitchell in Utah. On the team side, the Utah Jazz reached incredible success, finishing 1st in the Division and the Conference in the 2020-21 season, culminating in a Conference Semifinals appearance.
“We did a lot of special things,” Mitchell said to Spears in the interview. “We set records. Had the best record in the league. We did a lot of things.”
Off the court, Mitchell was still proud to be part of the community, with the Utah Jazz scholarship, giving a full college scholarship to someone for every win from 2020 to 2022, hitting home the most.
“Being able to pay for full room and board… that’s one of the coolest things just because it’s not just basketball,” Mitchell shared. “You’re not just playing to win it. You’re playing for something deeper than life. It’s not just about yourself. That’s something that really resonates and hits home for not just me, but everybody. I feel like we were playing for that. We were able to impact lives for generations.”
Mitchell will be coming back to Salt Lake City on Jan. 10, when the Cavs visit the Jazz at Vivint Arena. It will be a reunion with the fans that Mitchell claims will be “interesting.”
“I don’t know necessarily what the reception will be, positive or negative, but I’m excited, obviously, to go back and play,” Mitchell told Spears. “You’re there for five years. You lay roots there as far as relationships you build in the organization and with different people in the community. To come back again and play in front of the crowd will be dope.”
You can read the full interview between Donovan Mitchell and Marc Spears on Andscape’s website here.