A few days after it was decided that the NBA would resume its season in the bubble campus in Orlando, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell expressed his preference for staying “on the front lines” to continue to push for change in the realms of social and racial justice: “I think that’s just something that really needs attention, as opposed to people talking about who scored 30 or 40 or who won this game. It should be about Breonna Taylor.”
Almost exactly 24 hours before Mitchell and the Jazz are slated to play their first NBA game in more than four months, it was apparent that Mitchell’s feelings had not changed.
Asked Wednesday evening in a Zoom call with local and national media what his emotions were like this close to playing basketball again, Mitchell had a few other emotions he needed to address beforehand.
“Well, first off, I’d like to start off and just say — guys have said it throughout the week and I want to continue to spread the message — we need justice for Breonna Taylor,” Mitchell said. “We all understand that she was killed in her own home. If there’s a point where you can’t feel safe in your own home, that’s not right. I feel like [Kentucky attorney general] Daniel Cameron needs to do his job and arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor.”
And as for the basketball …
“To be honest with you, just ready to go. The biggest thing is just trying to work out the kinks,” Mitchell added. “We’ve been playing against each other for so long, it’s gonna be good to play against different guys, to get to hit different guys, and attack different guys. But I think we’re all locked in and ready to go, and things have looked good for us as far as practice goes. So I’m excited to see how we turn out.”
That last sentence was likely not singularly about basketball, either.
The NBA officially got back into action Wednesday with a quartet of “scrimmage” games that effectively serve as preseason action for the “seeding games” to come. The Jazz kick off their own trio of scrimmages Thursday at 6 p.m. MT against the Phoenix Suns. And yet, Wednesday’s media sessions drilled home the point that while, yes, the basketball is important and the Jazz players and coaches want to do well, their on-court results will be far from the only indicator of their success.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder also prefaced his media session with a brief history lesson, noting that on July 22, 1899, a white mob in Fayette, Missouri, abducted a Black man named Frank Embree — due to stand trial after being accused of assaulting a white girl — and lynched him in front of 1,000 onlookers.
“There’s been a lot of dialogue about keeping the issue of racism in our country, and social justice issues, alive by continuing to talk about them,” Snyder said. “… We’re clearly keeping the dialogue alive by remembering things throughout our country’s history that hopefully we continue to change.”
Mitchell actually sees that as his primary objective right now.
“That’s really what coming down here is for. Obviously, we want to win a championship and play games, but the ultimate goal is to continue to spread the message,” he said. “Because we can’t be on the front lines — we can’t be there because we’re here right now — so we’ve got to find ways as a league to go out there and continue to spread the message. Whether it’s continuing to tell you guys at every press conference; on the court; once the game is over … we can continue to keep the message on what it needs to be. Because this is just a sport. Obviously, it’s our job. But there’s real-life problems that we have going on that we need to fix.”
That said, they’re hardly treating basketball as an afterthought.
While they want to do their part to help effect change, they are also competitors who relish the opportunity to play basketball professionally.
And so, even in a game that will feature 10-minute quarters, and might make sparing use of the starters, and might give off weird vibes with no fans present, the Jazz are incredibly eager to get out there on the HP Field House court and finally face somebody else.
“It should be fun to try to get back out there and play against another team,” Rudy Gobert said this week. “With all the things that happened and are happening, it’s great to be able to still do what we love and be doing it at the highest level. And we’re gonna try to keep doing that.”
Mitchell agreed with his All-Star teammate.
“The biggest thing for us is let’s go out there and just hoop. At the end of day, we’ve waited four months to hoop — let’s just go out there and do it,” he said. “That’s really where a lot of our heads are at. We’re kind of the underdogs with Bojan [Bogdanovic] being out, as well, so let’s just go out there and play free and go out there and do we came to do. … Guys are ready to seize this opportunity and seize this moment that we have playing in these games and in the playoffs.”
Snyder feels the same.
He didn’t check out what any of Wednesday’s games looked like … he’s not sure what his rotations will be given the 10-minute quarters … he can only guess at how the absence of energy typically generated by a crowd of 20,000 fans will impact the action.
But he is certain of one thing: His players are ready to play.
“We’re just really excited to play basketball again,” Snyder said. “… Players and teams are going to feel good about getting back on the floor and competing.”