Donovan Mitchell reflects on time in Utah before first game against Jazz: ‘It was just draining on my energy’

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No NBA city is perfect, but the one market that consistently seems to create issues between players and fans is Salt Lake City. The Utah Jazz have played there for over four decades, but a common thread in that time has been players voicing frustrations about the actions of the fan base there. Both Russell Westbrook and Ja Morant have had run-ins with those fans in recent years, but even Utah players themselves have struggled in their interactions with them.

Donovan Mitchell is one such player. He spent the first five seasons of his career in Utah, but now that he’s a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he’s opening up about the way he was treated by fans in his original NBA city. 

“It’s no secret there’s a lot of stuff that I dealt with being in Utah off the floor,” Mitchell told Andscaped’s Marc J. Spears. “If I’m being honest with you, I never really said this, but it was draining. It was just draining on my energy just because you can’t sit in your room and cheer for me and then do all these different things. I’m not saying specifically every fan, but I just feel like it was a lot of things. A [Utah] state senator [Stuart Adams] saying I need to get educated on my own Black history. Seeing Black kids getting bullied because of their skin color. Seeing a little girl [Isabella Tichenor] hang herself because she’s being bullied.”

Now that Mitchell is playing in the more diverse Cleveland, he called it “a blessing to be back around people that look like me.” He also told the story of a particularly stressful interaction with a police officer. “I got pulled over once. I got an attitude from a cop until I gave him my ID,” Mitchell explained. “And that forever made me wonder what happens to the young Black kid in Utah that doesn’t have that power to just be like, ‘This is who I am.’ And that was one of the things for me that I took to heart.”

Sadly, racism exists in every NBA market, and really, all across the United States. It can’t be avoided entirely. But Mitchell’s stories about Utah are hardly exclusive to his experience there. Many players have expressed issues with the fans in Salt Lake City. Mitchell is happy to have found a new home, but it’s unfortunate that he had to deal with these issues in the first place.

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