When you get more famous, you generally get less accessible.
That’s not Donovan Mitchell’s style.
When the 21-year-old Utah Jazz guard woke up Wednesday morning, he decided to see what Fourth of July parties in Salt Lake City he could attend by asking Twitter. He got invites to a lot more than he could go to — but he managed to go to a few. At one, he was photographed in a pool, with a novelty-sized basketball in hand.
“I saw the pool. I saw the basket,” he said. “So I was like, I gotta get in. I gotta have fun.”
That’s the world for Donovan Mitchell these days: One full of open doors that he can’t help but walk through. His whirlwind offseason has led him from the Bahamas, to Serbia, to Greece to the Philippines and, naturally coast-to-coast back in the States — what Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has called Mitchell’s “media tour.”
Last month, Mitchell served as an in-house interviewer in Brooklyn on NBA Draft night. Days later, he arrived at the NBA Awards show in Santa Monica, Calif., in a meme-decorated van and an eye-catching red suit.
Mitchell, it seems, is everywhere. That’s his idea of relaxation.
“I decided to let myself be a kid, not be a professional athlete,” he said. “And I say that because usually for myself, in the season, I’m always locked in one gear, ready to play basketball, always keeping my guard up. So I just let my guard down and just enjoyed vacation.”
Mitchell also spent some time recovering from the season after suffering a foot injury in the playoff finale against the Houston Rockets in May. Mitchell estimated the recovery set him back a month in his planned offseason development, and joked “I’m kinda fat now.”
But walking around in a boot didn’t prevent him from flying to Belgrade to watch the Euroleague Final Four in May, which he described as perhaps the standout experience of his overseas trips. He liked watching Real Madrid star Luka Doncic, who would go on to be drafted by the Dallas Mavericks, and he enjoyed watching the courtside VIPs scream louder at the refs than any other fans in the arena.
But he was also surprised at his camps in Greece and the Philippines to see how far his celebrity has actually grown.
“I thought they would just think of me as a [generic] basketball player, but they knew who I was,” he said. “They were chanting ‘Rookie of the Year’ during all that stuff. So it was pretty cool to have them actually know me, who I play for, what I actually do.”
That seems likely to continue as long as the Jazz are competitive. Utah made moves this week to maintain last year’s roster: re-signing Derrick Favors; extending offers to Dante Exum and Raul Neto; picking up Thabo Sefolosha’s option for the coming season. The Jazz believe continuity is the key to competitiveness, and Mitchell seems on board with that.
“I think we did a lot of great things this year with a team that it took us a while to figure out who we were,” he said. “And I think once we figured out who we were, we played well. And I think we like our chances with the way we were playing the last few games of the season and whatnot. I think everybody knows what to do.”
While Mitchell said his past month-and-a-half was, surprisingly, “one of the most relaxing things I ever did,” the remainder of the offseason will be spent mainly in Salt Lake City. He missed playing, and he wants to spend time making up for the time lost from injury.
Mitchell still says he never saw any of this coming — the stardom, the embrace from fans, the fast-paced, globe-trotting life he has today. Others see it differently: He’s spent a lot of time with Trey Lewis, his old Louisville teammate, since Lewis joined the Jazz Summer League roster. The two have talked about how world travel has opened their eyes, and how they’ve changed over the years.
Lewis said Mitchell has become “a real man” in how he conducts himself — a far cry from Mitchell’s own self-portrait of a kid just having fun. But none of this should come as a shock.
“He was born to do this,” Lewis said. “What he’s doing now is no surprise to me, he’s just doing what he was born to do.”
The Donovan Mitchell World Tour
May 18 • Mitchell takes in the Euroleague Final Four with some teammates, including Ekpe Udoh
May 21 • Mitchell heads to Athens for several appearances
May 31 • Mitchell shares a photo of himself driving a Lamborghini (later admitting it’s a rental)
June 3 • Mitchell holds a camp at Greenwich Country School in Connecticut, where he attended school through ninth grade
June 6 • Mitchell goes to Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland, and gets an on-screen interview
June 16-18 • Mitchell goes on a tour through China and the Philippines with adidas
June 21 • Mitchell serves as an in-venue interviewer at the NBA Draft in Brooklyn
June 25 • Mitchell arrives in Los Angeles for the NBA Awards show