While the Utah Jazz sat out of Thursday’s game against the Denver Nuggets, just as the rest of the NBA did the day before, they heard the criticism.
They heard fans who didn’t understand what they were doing it for. They heard the fans who said it wouldn’t bring about change. They heard the fans that said that they were making mountains out of molehills, or that Jacob Blake’s shooting was justified.
Donovan Mitchell has a message for those people.
“If I show my driver’s license, I may get out of a ticket. But at the end of the day, the little kid in the inner city, a little kid who was going five miles over the speed limit, should not fear for his life. Sleeping in your own home, you shouldn’t have to fear for your life because of where you live. You shouldn’t be behind the eight-ball because of where you grew up, education wise. There are so many different things, obstacles we have to overcome, that have been pushed to the back burner,” Mitchell said.
In particular, Mitchell — and it’s accurate to lump his Jazz teammates with him, after interviews before Game 6 on Sunday — was proud of the change that they were able to bring about with their short-lived boycott. The players pointed to the coalition they created, between players, coaches, and owners, that will seek social change in NBA communities. They pointed to additional air time during NBA playoff games that will be dedicated to the cause.
And most of all, they’re proud of the additional voting centers that NBA owners have agreed to open, including all 29 NBA arenas. In Utah, the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies is opening up Vivint Arena and three Megaplex theaters as a place for people to vote on Election Day.
“That’s one thing I respect about the Miller family: They didn’t just open the arena, they opened the Megaplex as well, making more places available, easily accessible to vote,” Mitchell said. “I think that just shows the dedication they have to to helping us preach our message.”
Mitchell and teammate Mike Conley remembered their attitudes towards voting when they were 18 or 19 years old, and knew it wasn’t a priority for them then. They’re trying to show young adults the importance of voting at all levels.
“I can be one to attest that the voting when I was 18 years old wasn’t necessarily a priority,” Conley said. “It wasn’t something that we really took much interest in. We weren’t watching the news‚ or trying to get caught up on legislation, laws, the different guys’ opinions and what they’re trying to bring to America. I don’t want it to have to be that same way for the next 18-year-old, or the next generation. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I’ve made.”
Data bears out Conley’s experience: young people have voted at significantly lower rates than their older counterparts, even in so-called “wave elections,” like Barack Obama’s in 2008.
And Mitchell wants to clarify that it’s not just the presidential race that young people should be interested in, but local politics, too.
“I’ve done it [voting]. But now I’m understanding the importance of the importance of voting, not just for the presidential election, but the local elections as well. You know, where the laws are really being put into place,” Mitchell said. “As I’ve become older, I’ve understood that it’s not just who’s president. It’s — Who’s the governor? Who’s the mayor?”
They know that change won’t just come from who the elected officials are, but continuing to put pressure on them as well.
“I think we’ve come a long way. But we still have a long, long way to go,” center Rudy Gobert said. “We know that we have big platforms. The NBA is probably the most influential sports league in the world right now. It’s important for us to keep sharing what we think are the right messages to all these people, all these kids.”
And if they still won’t listen?
“If people don’t agree with it or don’t like to hear that, that’s too bad. Don’t watch the NBA,” Mitchell said. “Because we’ve all done a great job continuing to speak on it, and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”