People in Utah already know Donovan Mitchell is special.
In his two seasons with the Utah Jazz, he has delivered some incredible moments on the court but he has also popped up in the community at neighborhood cookouts, helping people with phone repairs, or aiding crash victims, at basketball games and other places newly minted pro sports athletes aren't typically found.
He has credited his mother often in the media, but in a new essay on ThePlayersTribune.com, Donovan Mitchell and his mother Nicole Mitchell, tell the story of young Don Mitchell and his surprise rise from school boy to a NBA star. Mom doubles as editor, sprinkling the player's words with some of her own, always with "Editor's note."
And his grounded, positive, hard working approach goes a long way toward showing why the NBA and its fans need to take note of what its stars should sound like and be like.
It’s really amazing to me how quickly everything happened. I’m sitting there on December 31, 2016, wondering if I was good enough, wondering if basketball was really worth it anymore. Fifteen months later, I’m in the NBA playoffs going up against Russell Westbrook.
You remember those playoffs? The ones where the Utah Jazz upset Oklahoma City and its trio of superstars in the first round? The Jazz weren't supposed to be able to challenge the Thunder. But he helped bring Utah an opening-round win. Donovan Mitchell wrote about how he thought he wasn't heading to Utah at all, and wasn't sure there was a fit for him in Denver, with several players already at his position. He writes:
If you watch the tape back, Maria Taylor from ESPN tells me that I’ve been traded to the Jazz, and you can literally see me breathe a sigh of relief.
Mother and son share the story of Donovan's early days in a private school and her sacrifices to put him there, as well as her determination to make sure he did his school work. The back and forth give the essay a signature personal, and touching style.
We had to give this big speech for our public speaking class at the end of eighth grade, so I chose MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But then I started playing Xbox and
Editor’s note: Don tried to bluff his way through one of the most important speeches of the 21st century. I was not a happy mom ... There was no basketball that weekend. He thought I was lying. I was not lying. There was no basketball. By Monday, he knew every word of Dr. King’s speech.
They weren't done speaking about Utah.
But man, I genuinely love Utah. The way that the city embraced me as a rookie is something that I didn’t even think was possible.
Editor’s note: My favorite thing was going to my first game in Utah, and I just couldn’t believe that so many people already had on my son’s jersey. You see that number 45 and as a mother, it’s overwhelming, you know?
But most of the essay is focused on his work as a high school and college player when being a pro sports athlete wasn't a sure thing. Donovan writes of his time in the gym, sometimes in the middle of the night, and his hopes and his fears. His mother was always focused on helping him become a college graduate.
Players like Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith make an appearance in the story of Donovan Mitchell. But so does his then 13-year-old sister Jordan who he credits with his development too, in part because of a text.
"Man, I’m serious, that text probably changed my whole life," he writes.
Mitchell is also involved in a current crossover promotional campaign that involve both his first signature shoes and the latest Spider-Man movie. It is a high-profile shoe deal, especially for a player from one of the NBA's smallest markets. In the essay he explains what his D.O.N. brand means to him and a lot more.
You can read the full essay, from the Mitchells, titled "The Dream" at ThePlayersTribune.com.