Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell has been saying it for months — that while he loves basketball and is living his dream to be playing it professionally, highlighting the continued societal inequities that Black people in this country face must become a bigger and ongoing priority for him.
He all but shouted it from the rooftops Wednesday morning in a powerful and emotive column written for The Players Tribune.
“This is bigger than basketball. Everybody knows it in their soul. This moment that we are living in right now is more important than the NBA coming back. It’s more important than who wins the title,” Mitchell wrote. “… As NBA players, I feel like we have a responsibility to the world during The Bubble, when all eyes are going to be on us. We can’t just serve as a distraction from reality. We have to keep our foot on the gas. We have to keep having uncomfortable conversations. Even if we’re hated for it by some people.”
Mitchell’s article was highlighted by a pair of stories from the young guard about how the school logos on his clothing “was like my armor” in certain neighborhoods.
As a teen at a predominantly white prep school in the northeast, “That was my, ‘I’m supposed to be here, don’t panic!‘ ”
Mitchell also recounted a disturbing experience he had while playing his college ball for Rick Pitino at the University of Louisville.
He and several teammates were driving when a white police office pulled them over. As Mitchell and his teammates wondered what they had done, and spent a few anxious moments wondering how the interaction would play out, the officer spent a few minutes questioning them — who they were, where they were going, then took a closer look, saw them all clad in Louisville gear … and decided to send them on their way.
“He literally says, ‘The only reason why I’m letting you go is because I love your coach,’ ” Mitchell recalled.
The experience was equal parts harrowing and telling for the basketball player.
“If we weren’t wearing that Cardinal on our chest, does it go a different way?” he wondered. “All of a sudden, are we sitting on the curb? All of a sudden, are we getting cuffed? All of a sudden, is there a problem? Is there a threat?”
Jazz coach Quin Snyder said before Wednesday’s 124-115 victory over the Grizzlies that he hopes one thing readers take away from Mitchell’s story is that such accounts are not particularly unique for Black people.
“Well, I think this period, these last few months, we’ve talked about educating ourselves and having conversations — you’ve found out how frequently that has happened with players,” Snyder said. “… Whether it’s Donovan’s situation with [several] teammates, or it’s another person that knows a friend of theirs that that’s happened to, everybody on our team has had experience in those situations on various levels. And that’s one of the reasons that people are doing what they’re doing, in order to try to have people understand and recognize that so that those conversations will happen more frequently, and empathy will be raised.”
Mitchell made it clear that because it has happened to too many people — be it George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, whoever — and because it could happen to him, he’s not about to stop talking about such issues regularly.
And if that doesn’t work for you, well …
“To borrow a phrase from my guy Kyle Korver, if you wear my jersey, or you chant my name because of what I do for a living, then you should know what I believe in my heart,” Mitchell wrote. “If you don’t want to hear it, and you want me to just shut up and dribble, then that’s on you.”