Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson both admitted that when the Utah Jazz’s initial charter flight to Memphis on Tuesday afternoon had an engine destroyed by a bird strike, they were texting family members, legitimately concerned they were about to die.
After the win against the Grizzlies on Wednesday night, they recounted how shaken up they were by the incident.
For Donovan Mitchell — who already had a pre-existing fear of flying — the experience was profoundly terrifying.
After Friday morning’s shootaround, the All-Star guard recalled the details — hearing a boom, feeling the entire plane shake as though something onboard had exploded, the sense of panic that quickly overtook him and his fellow passengers.
“I immediately got scared as s---, because I hate flying in general, and it didn’t sound good,” Mitchell said.
The initial shock soon gave way to growing dread, as Mitchell and the rest of the team saw their minds all immediately go to the worst-case scenario.
“I was sitting across from Royce [O’Neale] and we were just kind of sitting there praying, in a sense, because we really didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “… I texted my mom, my dad, my sister, just letting them know, ‘This could be it.’ That’s a scary thought. Just kind of saying, ‘I love you guys.’ Literally writing what could have been your last words. That was, for me, the scariest part.”
The pilot got the plane under control. A flight attendant got on the intercom, trying to provide a calming, soothing, reassuring presence.
And the damaged plane limped back to Salt Lake City.
A few hours later, most of the team boarded another flight to Memphis.
Mitchell did not join them.
His fear of flying — now compounded by an incident that had caused his reflect on his own mortality — left him too shaken to try to travel again that night, a decision his team fully embraced without hesitation.
“I just needed that day, mentally. It was just like, I can’t make that trip, not for a for a game. Some things are just bigger than the game of basketball itself. And that right there was it for me,” Mitchell said. “Everybody kind of has their different things — mine happens to be flying, as you all know. I’ve never had a situation like that — I’ve had bad turbulence days, but I’ve never had a situation like that. And I just needed to take that time, because it just wasn’t feeling or sitting right with me to go on the trip, and my teammates and my coaches and everybody respected that. I appreciate the support.”
Of course, being a professional basketball player, he recognizes that travel is part of the gig.
Mitchell understands that people have wondered if he’ll be able to shake off that flight and board planes again for the rest of the Jazz’s road games. After all, yet more are right around the corner, with matchups in Dallas this coming Monday and in Phoenix on Wednesday.
Even though he just had the worst flying experience of his life, though, Mitchell said he’ll be ready to go on this two-game trip — and is hopeful he’ll be ready for everything after that.
“I know I have a job to do. I understand that that comes with the job. I took the time that I needed to kind of just mentally get myself in a good place. I’ll be fine come Sunday,” he said. “… I understand I have a job to do. I can’t pull a John Madden and drive everywhere — much as I would love to. I can’t, I understand I’ve got to do that.
“I’ve calmed down and I’ll be good,” he added, before pausing momentarily. “Should be good, at least I think, for the rest of the season.”