Chicago • Donovan Mitchell is always keen to make a fashion statement, though it usually entails some adidas gear featuring his “Spida” logo and a pair of his signature D.O.N. Issue #1 sneakers, as opposed to a hairnet, apron, and plastic gloves.
Similarly, blocking a few shots is nothing particularly unique for Rudy Gobert — but then, they aren’t typically coming off the fingertips of schoolchildren.
Participating in NBA All-Star Weekend made possible some special opportunities for the Utah Jazz teammates, though.
For Mitchell, being among the 500 or so volunteers to show up and box produce at the Greater Chicago Food Depository on Friday afternoon as part of the NBA Cares Day of Service wasn’t about an obligation or a photo op — it was a personal, meaningful chance to do something good.
“There were days [as a child] when food was tough, or clothes were tough. For me, being able to do something like this, being able to give back, it really hits home,” he said. “… Being able to remember there were days I didn’t have, there are days people don’t have."
And so, he spent an hour cramming citrus into bags, stuffing those bags into boxes, carrying those filled boxes from one spot to another. All the while, he smiled, chatting up his temporary co-workers, cracking jokes, occasionally sharing a hug with a random well-wisher.
He acknowledged that it was just an hour out of his life, but was no less hopeful that simply doing something might make an impact for somebody.
“You never know on a day what this could possibly do for someone,” Mitchell said. “You try to reach out to as many people as possible, you could try to reach a thousand people a day, but it may take just that one person to change their life.”
Gobert, meanwhile, was hopeful that his presence among Chicago-area public school children at the Jr. NBA event taking place at the Navy Pier might similarly make an impression.
While he never got to meet any NBA players as a kid growing up in Saint-Quentin, France, he did get to attend some basketball camps where European professionals made appearances, and their presence was a big deal to him.
He hoped to accomplish something similar for the kids he interacted with on Friday.
“To me, it’s the most important thing to be able to give back and inspire the next generation,” Gobert said. “It makes me remember that, a few years ago, I was one of those kids dreaming to become an NBA player.”
Of course, the 7-foot-1 center’s imposing height couldn’t help but be memorable for many of the kids who got a chance to drive the lane and try to hoist a shot of over him.
On many of them, Gobert was content to simply raise his arm high and make things difficult. For a select few, however, he playfully swatted away their attempts, imparting both a memory and a potential lesson.
“I think they’ll remember those forever,” Gobert said. “You have to teach them early that nothing is easy, in basketball and life. I tried not to give them too many shortcuts — be out there and make them work for it.”
Meanwhile, on Friday night, Mitchell got in some work of his own, joining the TNT broadcast of the Rising Stars Challenge as a guest commentator.
After playing in that game as both a rookie and sophomore, this time he was analyzing the play of his peers — including longtime friends Eric Paschall and Devonte’ Graham. He let it be known afterward he is not yet quite as comfortable on that side of the camera.
“It was weird. It was weird just kind of seeing it from [that viewpoint],” Mitchell said. “I tried to emulate Reggie Miller and those guys, just have fun with it like they do. If you think a lot [about] it, you start to get too serious, too out of your element. I was having fun.”