From the start, Donovan Mitchell came across as a different kind of star player.
He seemed not only to be enjoying the remarkable rocket ride he was on, coming out of Louisville to the Jazz, becoming a pro sensation in his rookie season and substantiating that status in his second year, but was also the strangest of things … appreciative.
Maybe that’s more common among great young players than anybody knows. But Mitchell unashamedly let everybody know. And he did it again in a Players’ Tribune article headlined, “The Dream.” He wrote the story, and his mom edited it.
In his piece, Mitchell revealed the important role his mother played in his life, the sacrifices she made for him to be where he is now. She couldn’t have cared less about basketball, at least not initially, dialing in more on education and the opportunities education and the papers behind it could bring her son.
More than that, though, Mitchell lifted the curtain on his own insecurities and vulnerabilities about the path he was taking, wondering, even when he was playing big-time college basketball, whether he was good enough. He wrote that at one low point he considered giving the game up.
Instead, feeding off the encouragement of his younger sister, he forged ahead, taking the lessons his mom taught him, learning from her example, grateful for and grasping both, achieving the success that he is reaping now. Early on, his mother reminded Donovan, when she sensed from him foolish, youthful bravado for accomplishments on the court that really weren’t all that notable, to remain the humble kid he had always been.
It reminded me of an exchange I had with Mitchell in the back half of his rookie season, after he had won the NBA’s slam-dunk contest and was one of the centerpieces of the Jazz’s drive to the playoffs. Mitchell had captured the hearts of Jazz fans, not just because of his outstanding play on the floor, but on account of his accessibility, his friendly manner, his embrace of the community, his exuberant, giving way. The rook’s jersey was flying off the shelves of sports-gear stores, onto the backs of toddlers and adults, alike.
The Jazz had just won another game, much to the credit of Mitchell, and a crowd of reporters had wrapped up asking him about the victory and his contributions to it.
After all that interviewing calmed down, I asked him, in so many words, “In the face of all this success, are you going to become a jerk?”
His answer was … perfect.
The influence of the woman who had done everything she could to raise her son in the best way possible, to teach him about humility and respect and strength and work and conscientiousness, coursed through the veins of the son who was now a man.
In Mitchell’s article, he wrote about how much he loves playing in Utah, how much he loves Salt Lake City and the support of the basketball fans who live here. His mom also added in a sweet bit of irony how pleased she was when he was headed to Utah, instead of New York City or Los Angeles or Miami.
She was emotional when she saw the way those fans embraced her own as she sat in the stands and watched him take the floor in a Jazz uniform.
This is a match made in hoop heaven. A rabid fan base that adores the players who play for them, especially when those players are exceptionally talented and also reciprocate the positive feeling back at them.
Donovan Mitchell is a star, a different kind of star. He can play, he’s got personality, and he’s appreciative. Hollywood has already found him, featuring him in an ad for the upcoming Spiderman movie, alongside Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal.
There will be more spotlights, many more, in the seasons ahead — on the court and off it. Maybe there will be deep playoff runs, as well. Jazz fans will have to get used to sharing their guy, watching his rise, hoping he’ll always love Utah, love the fans of Utah back.
Whoever thought Stockton and Malone were ancient memories and anomalies, one-time deals, that NBA stardom in this more modern time wouldn’t — or couldn’t — reach all the way out to Utah were wrong.
A star is here, alongside a couple of other stars, fellows by the names of Gobert — who also paid tribute to his mom while picking up his second straight DPOY award on Monday night — and Mike Conley — who accepted his third NBA Sportsmanship award. It’s a cluster of stars, then, a gathering of greatness and goodness whose moms, quite properly, are proud of who and what their sons have become.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.