Donovan Mitchell calls Dwyane Wade an “older brother.”
It’s a phrase that reveals how close the two men are, despite their 14-year age gap. Mitchell sees Wade as someone who provides support in multiple roles: as a mentor, as a confidant, and as a friend. Of course, there’s a little similarity in their games, too — both are star-level shooting guards who made huge impacts from day one in their careers.
But when a report circulated that Wade was brought in to be a part-owner of the Utah Jazz in order to “appease” Mitchell... well, Mitchell wasn’t having it.
“I think that discredits everything that Dwyane Wade has worked for in his career,” Mitchell said in an exclusive interview with The Tribune. “I don’t think that’s fair to a successful NBA player who’s looking to take his business ventures to something even higher. At the end of the day, him and I haven’t spoken about it, because we’re not really going to care what people want to think.”
“But I think that’s unfair to him. It’s unfair. We’re close, there’s no secret about that, and I’m thankful that he’s here — he’s someone I can confide in and speak to. But I don’t think it’s fair,” Mitchell continues. “He’s an NBA owner at the age of 39. Like, that should be a story in itself. That’s dope. That’s cool. That’s something that people strive to do, and he’s able to do it. It’s a credit to him and credit to Ryan (Smith) for being able to bring Dwyane in and have that happen.”
The original report
In late 2020, the Jazz were purchased for $1.6 billion by Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith from the Larry H. Miller family. Six months later, in April, Wade was announced as a new minority investor in the team. NBA rules say that all investors must own at least 1% of a franchise, but exact details on what stake in the team Wade owns have not been released. Wade earned nearly $200 million in salary during the course of his NBA career, but also earned income from sponsorships and business ventures before and after his retirement in 2019.
At the beginning of this season, Jake Fischer at Bleacher Report detailed the efforts the Jazz have undergone in order to keep Mitchell in Utah. Included was outside speculation that the Jazz brought in Wade to the team’s ownership group in efforts to keep Mitchell, a two-time NBA All-Star, happy.
“One source with knowledge of the situation maintained Mitchell had no involvement in Wade purchasing a stake in the team,” Fischer wrote. “In any case, it’s a move many league observers have viewed as a direct attempt by Smith to appease Mitchell, who first formed a strong connection with Wade through their representation at Creative Artists Agency.”
“It’s a little bit of new-owner syndrome, too,” an unnamed assistant general manager told Bleacher Report. “You come in, and you’re immediately told, ‘The star player, you want them to like you.’”
Fischer cited the departure of Mike Elliott, the Jazz’s former vice president of performance healthcare, as a potential example of a franchise catering to Mitchell. The guard was frustrated with the team’s training staff after a recovery process from a late-season ankle injury didn’t go as he anticipated; Mitchell was held out of the Jazz’s Game 1 matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round against his wishes.
In addition, the team’s decision to hold training camp outside of Salt Lake City this season was requested by Mitchell, Fischer reported.
For his part, Wade spent 15 of his 16 NBA seasons in Miami, spending short stints with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers near the end of his career. Those experiences gave him perspective on the relationship between ownership and players.
“Hopefully, along this process, I can teach ownership and players how to merge this,” Wade told The Athletic’s Shams Charania. “You know, it’s too much separation (between) ownership and players. There’s too many middle people. I think we all need to figure out a way to really make this all a partnership. And the relationship I have with Donovan, and the relationship Ryan has with Donovan, it allows us to start trying to see if we can bridge the gap between star players, players and ownership and don’t make it a huge separation.”
But while Wade is trying to build bridges between ownership and players generally, he told Charania that he’s not a part of the Utah Jazz in order to keep Mitchell in Utah for the entirety of his career.
“Well, I hope they don’t put that pressure on me,” Wade told Charania. “I can’t keep Donovan happy. What’s going to keep Donovan happy is the players that we are able to put around him, and how much we’re able to continue to help him reach the levels that he wants to go to.”
“I think the best way to do it is communication. It’s all about communication. So there’s a lot of communication breakdown in this sport, right? And (it’s about) something as simple as communicating your wants and your needs and what’s working and what’s not working from both sides, from all sides.”
Wade also believes that his partnership with the Smith Entertainment Group, the organization that runs the Jazz, can be educational. “To be 39 years old and to be able to be a part of an amazing ownership group, I feel lucky,” Wade said. “I feel honored because I’m going to learn so much about business, so much about the game of basketball.”
Mitchell’s next steps
Mitchell, for his part, believes that Wade’s progression to ownership truly matters — especially to the people who come from Wade’s neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago.
“For him to come where he came from, to be able to have the career he had, and now to say that he owns an NBA basketball team — in his childhood, his neighborhood, you don’t get that story,” Mitchell said. “We play this game to win, but also to be an inspiration to people from where we come from.”
“This game is great. It’s given me an opportunity to do a lot of different things, put me in rooms with people, different things like that,” Mitchell said. “So being able to take advantage of those things — and obviously make money — but also put yourself in situations that as a kid, you wouldn’t even dream of.”
Last season, Mitchell signed a five-year, $163 million extension with the Jazz, albeit one with a player option in its final year. But Mitchell doesn’t think he’s limited by his team income — indeed, he thinks he can follow in the follow of the footsteps of other NBA stars who have gone into business outside the NBA.
“You look at how these — I call them OGs — have expanded their palette, done different things. Even guys in the NBA, like Kevin Durant, LeBron (James), Steph (Curry), they’ve done so many great business things because of who they are and the work they put on the floor, so I’m looking to do the same,” Mitchell said. “I’ve done that now in my first five years, but I can only imagine when I’m done playing at the levels that I could possibly get to.”
“Seeing that from Dwyane, who I consider my brother, it’s definitely inspiring.”