As Donovan Mitchell was standing in a tunnel from the visitors’ locker room to Vivint Arena at around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, taking in the scene from his old home before the upcoming game, he suddenly and unexpectedly got a advancement. of the tribute video that the Utah Jazz had prepared for him.
Your general takeout? Other than a Jazz content staffer scolding him for spoiling his surprise, is that it?
“I spent a lot of time here, and there was a lot of good things that you saw throughout the video, ”he replied. “…He could laugh and smile, looking at me with the Denver Nuggets cap [on draft night] And talking about how I’m shaking.”
Actually, his only complaint was that he could have done it without seeing “the ugly hairdo I had when I first came into the league.”
Beyond that, the mystery du jour of whether jazz fans would lovingly welcome or angrily reject the former star on his return to Salt Lake City was revealed just as quickly and certainly.
The video tribute, shown before the game, was enthusiastically received. And when PA voice Dan Roberts began to sing, “At guard, No. 45…”, the applause was thunderous. Small groups of boos were heard, but they were quite overwhelmed.
The sideshow drama responded, everyone could finally, finally, get to real basketball.
It didn’t take long for Mitchell to give the Vivint Arena faithful a taste of what they were missing next. the September trade that sent him to Cleveland for a trio of players and a host of future draft picks. He dropped a dozen points in the first quarter. He made it to 25 at halftime. He finished with 46 on 14-of-27 shooting, along with six assists, five rebounds and three steals.
Still, with the Jazz pulling off some late miracles for a 116-114 victory, everyone was able to get a bit of the good vibes. Although Mitchell was disappointed that his team lost, he really couldn’t be upset given whose turn it was and how well everything else had gone.
“I was very comfortable, I’m not going to lie to you. It wasn’t weird. It was like I was playing at home like I have for the last five years,” she said. “You know, the reception was phenomenal, I appreciate it. …But it felt like a typical jazz night: back and forth, yelling, yelling. It was great. It was good to be back.”
There was a bit of controversy in the lead up.after Mitchell admitted his defense wasn’t up to scratch last year, he acknowledged that he thought the team was destined to be dismantled following its listless playoff loss to Dallas, then angered some of the fans with a national interview in which he said he had found the rejection of his off-court efforts “exhausting” at timeswhile adding how it was “heartwarming” and “refreshing” to play in front of more black fans in Cleveland than in Utah.
It made for some great radio content and fueled what turned out to be something of a social media echo chamber, but that was about it.
Jazz coach Will Hardy, asked before the game what he anticipated regarding the atmosphere ahead, noted that “there are always emotions” in such situations, then correctly predicted that it would ultimately be a game. very close in which all the relevant passions at play found their proper balance. .
“To be honest, I feel like there’s always a lot of noise and conversation from the outside, and when the game comes, the minute the ball goes up, it’s another NBA game,” he said. “You try not to focus too much on it, because two and a half hours after the notice, it will be over and you will move on.”
Mitchell is also moving on, but before taking aim at critics, he said he had twisted his words or made things up: “There are things I see and hear [attributed to me on social media] which I didn’t mention. However, he also made sure to repeat several times that his critical comments were not directed at all or even most fans.
He then defiantly vowed to keep doing what he’s been doing, no matter who he angers.
“I am going to continue speaking for the people you do not put a camera in front of because they do not have that voice, they cannot speak with it. That has always been my intent and that will always be my intent,” Mitchell said. “…I’m not going to stop using my voice the way I feel I have to.”
Meanwhile, whatever encouragement there was never extended to the participants on the court, anyway.
After the Jazz’s pregame shootout, veteran point guard Mike Conley, one of the few holdovers left to play alongside Mitchell in a Jazz jersey, noted that they remain close, calling him “a special person and one of my good friends,” and said they text or call each other frequently…as long as they don’t mistake each other’s playtime, anyway.
He added that Mitchell showed genuine enthusiasm for Utah’s terrific start to the season, even a false regret that had apparently proven to be addition by subtraction.
“He calls me after every win and jokes about things. You should have heard it after the first few weeks: ‘I knew the problem was me! I knew it was me that was the problem!’” Conley said, laughing. “That’s his sense of humor. It’s great to have that kind of connection with people.”
As a result, I was expecting a fun night.
“I’m sure we’ll laugh and joke before the game, and we’ll fight in the middle of the game,” Conley said.
That’s how it was more or less.
Mitchell was showing off everything, but the Jazz came out on top, and in the end, the only thing missing to make it an absolutely epic night for him was the end result.
Alternately dejected and energized, Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff, when not criticizing the ref for the flagrant foul that effectively gave Jordan Clarkson a seven-point play and completely changed the momentum of the game, praised his new star for do everything he could to let Cleveland win.
“He was Donovan. He was trying to get us through it,” Bickerstaff said of the All-Star guard’s performance, particularly his 17-point final period.
As Mitchell lingered on the court afterwards, he exchanged enthusiastic hugs and compliments with Conley and Clarkson. She would later admit that while she doesn’t like losing, there is a little less pain knowing that it comes from her friends.
He added that it’s actually not difficult at all to maintain a relationship with those two, who all play Xbox online together all the time.
The most important point was that you don’t keep those ties with people you don’t care about.
“You build friendships, you’re with these guys more than your family, you build relationships, and the amount of love that I have for those guys, I don’t know if what you see on the court shows it,” Mitchell. saying. “I mean, will there be Never be another game where I constantly give another guy a hug in the middle of the game, or when it’s a four-point game in the fourth quarter. That Never happens.”
And as he made his way towards the locker room, he thumped his chest several times, acknowledging one more roar from the crowd. Then, on his way to the interview room after the game, he was delayed again and again, as one supporter after another stopped to say hello once more.
“I know the security guys, I know the announcers, it was great to see everyone,” Mitchell said. “I wouldn’t call it relief that it’s over. God willing, I’m here again in a few more weeks.”