On Friday morning at the Utah Jazz’s Zions Bank Basketball Campus practice facility, Donovan Mitchell met with the media for the first time since suffering a concussion against the Lakers back on Jan. 17.
The session was meant to be limited to him announcing that he’d finally cleared the NBA’s concussion protocol and would be playing Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets, and to him detailing the twists and turns of his recovery process.
And it did include that. It also included an unplanned detour into yet another discussion about discord with fellow Jazz star Rudy Gobert, after an ESPN podcast released Friday described their relationship as being “passively aggressively awkward.”
The three-time All-Star guard immediately sought to shoot down the perception that he and the three-time All-Star center are not getting along.
“No, no, no, no, no. We’re good,” Mitchell said. “I saw that [report] coming in this morning. Nah, we’re good. That’s just not true. Blatantly not true at all. We’ve never had this stretch of losses in a row, so now’s the time for all these things to come out, I guess. But it’s like, ‘C’mon, bro.’ Nah, we’re good.”
He went on to express annoyance that the now-familiar topic — it’s been in the public domain since Gobert first tested positive for COVID-19 on March 11, 2020, and a report famously emerged calling their relationship “unsalvageable” — has once again reared its head.
“I’m getting tired of answering it, to be honest. We put in the work, we go out and do our thing, we’re leaders for our team, we’re going through a tough stretch, and then that happens,” Mitchell said. “It’s part of the business that we’re in, that’s just how it goes. For him and I, we don’t really pay too much attention to it. … We’re not really too stressed about it. We’re good. We’re ready to play together. … People are going to say whatever, people want to speak for him, speak for me — but ’til you hear it from one of us, take it for what it’s worth.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell is glad to be getting back to action after missing eight consecutive games due to the concussion.
He noted that this was the fourth concussion he’s suffered in his life — he had one in high school, another in college, and then a third in Jan. 2021 — and had by far the longest recovery time.
After taking a couple of blows late in the first half of the Lakers game (one apiece right above and below his right eye), Mitchell said he developed a small headache as the game progressed, but didn’t initially think anything of it. As the team flew home from Los Angeles and he couldn’t sleep, owing to his headache worsening and the onset of nausea, he knew he had a problem.
Headaches and nausea became constants initially, and he said he could scarcely leave his house for the first four or five days. He tried to attend the Jazz’s Jan. 19 home game against the Rockets, but wound up leaving after developing an “excruciating” headache.
He said that as the symptoms lingered, “it got to a point where I got a little nervous, to be honest. I’ve had concussions before, and none of them really felt this bad.”
After about a week, Mitchell started showing signs of improvement and began planning on making his return to action in the Jazz’s Jan. 28/30 road trip to Memphis and Minneapolis. He had passed some of the steps required to clear the NBA’s concussion protocol (running on a treadmill or track; a light weightlift; a shooting session; playing 3-on-3; 5-on-0 with contact; and passing a “Baseline” cognitive test — all while being asymptomatic), and planned to complete the rest in the hours before the Grizzlies game.
Jazz officials said Mitchell had cleared the protocol and was in the “reconditioning phase” of his recovery. Problem was, that turned out not to be true. Mitchell noted that on the flight to Memphis, he developed more headaches, and thus could not clear the protocol; he attributed the report that he was ready to return to a “miscommunication” between the team’s training staff and PR staff. He missed both games on that trip, and the subsequent home game versus the Nuggets this past Wednesday.
As he got to the two-week mark since his concussion and still had symptoms, he decided to see a specialist to discuss his concerns, as he’d never previously gone more than 10 days with symptoms before.
“It’s not even about basketball, it’s just about the overall health of your brain and making sure you’re OK for life,” Mitchell said.
He got some reassurance that his recovery timeline was not abnormal (especially given his previous concussions), and that everything looked fine neurologically.
In the meantime, though, he was also feeling some guilt for being out for such a prolonged time while the already-short-handed Jazz were struggling through their worst stretch of the season.
He credited his mom for helping him maintain perspective during his time away, urging him to ignore thoughts of returning and to focus on how he was feeling. He also credited his teammates and coaches for never trying to apply pressure and rush him back. As a result, he prioritized his health.
“I want to play, I want to be there for my teammates, but I’m no good in life if I don’t have a proper brain,” Mitchell said.