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Opinion: Donovan Mitchell Is Offering Leadership Utah Needs

Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz stands for the National Anthem before their game against the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center on January 22, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Donovan Mitchell is offering the leadership the Utah Jazz need right now. He’s a leader the team and the state of Utah has always needed. Over the last two and a half seasons, Mitchell has become the dynamic scoring guard the franchise has longed for. Now, he’s become a voice that the franchise and the state of Utah has always lacked.

Mitchell first became a fan favorite when he said he wanted to play in Utah. Before being drafted, the Lousiville guard chose to workout for the Jazz despite being projected to be off the draft board long before the Jazz were selecting.

“I wanted to work out for the Jazz,” Mitchell said at his pre-draft workout. “I love the organization.”

As luck would have it, the Denver Nuggets shipped Mitchell to Utah on draft night, helping the Jazz find the next face of their franchise. Mitchell isn’t the first player at a draft workout who said he wanted to play in Utah. In fact, it’s a question most players face from the media during their pre-draft audition.

Some players say they want to play in Utah because of the opportunity to play anywhere far outweighs the alternative. Others offer a canned answer that it’s always been their dream to play in the NBA.

Mitchell’s enthusiasm for wanting to be in Utah felt different. He didn’t simply want to make it to the NBA, he wanted to ‘fit in’ with the Jazz.

Utah’s Reputation

Utah’s reputation around the NBA is no secret and its demographics are well known. According to the latest census, the state of Utah is 90 percent white. Only 1.4 percent of the population is Black or African American. In comparison, the national census says the United States is 76.4 percent white, and 13.4 percent Black or African American. As of 2019, roughly 78 percent of the NBA was Black.

Along with its demographics, members of the Jazz fan base have been accused of making racially insensitive comments towards opposing players.

Last season, former Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook accused a Jazz fan of making racially pointed remarks towards him.

Two fans received a lifetime ban as a result. At the next home game, team owner Gail Miller addressed the crowd saying hate speech was not welcome at the Vivint Smart Home Arena.

“No one wins when respect goes away,” Miller said. “Let’s keep a supporting atmosphere that our players know and deserve.”

Longtime NBA veteran Matt Barnes echoed Westbrook’s statements.

I said it [before] Utah Jazz have the most racist fans in the NBA,” Barnes tweeted.

The reputation has cost the Jazz talented players in the past. In 1997, at the height of the franchise’s success, veteran guard Derek Harper nixed a trade that would have sent him to Utah.

“There was a Utah deal, but you go live in Utah,” Harper told ESPN. “Nothing against Utah or their team, but I don’t want to live there.”

Mitchell Attacked Online

Last week, Mitchell posted a photo on Instagram that read “Free-ish, Since 1865.” The post commemorated Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating Texas’ fall to the Union Army, fulfilling President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to free the country’s slaves.

View this post on Instagram

HAPPY JUNETEENTH🙏🏾

A post shared by Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) on

While most fans shared their support for the post, several of the responses attacked Mitchell’s message. Many replies implied that Mitchell’s status and wealth as an NBA player were signs of equal freedom.

Those responses drew the ire of Mitchell on Twitter.

“Said it once and I’ll keep saying it!!” Mitchell tweeted. “Y’all can’t hide no more.”

Less than 30 minutes later, Mitchell added to his thoughts.

“Can’t see how yall can openly cheer for us then when it comes to this be against us so openly!!” The guard tweeted.

Mitchell’s Activism

Mitchell has been one of the Jazz and the NBA’s most outspoken voices since the death of George Floyd on May 25. In the months since, Mitchell has sent 39 tweets regarding protests, racial injustice, or supporting Black Lives Matter efforts.

The leadership from Mitchell is unfamiliar territory for Jazz fans. In the history of Jazz All-Stars, no player has matched Mitchell’s enormous reach. Through social media, a multi-million dollar shoe deal, and an eye-catching style of play, Mitchell has brought unique attention to Utah.

Hall of Fame guard John Stockton was notoriously aloof off the floor. Gordon Hayward, the team’s last All-Star before Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, once turned down an opportunity to discuss race and the NBA. Karl Malone, the team’s most accomplished player was once referred to as “a black man who has a redneck’s passion.”

Now, Mitchell seems to be addressing racial issues head-on.

During Sunday night’s ESPY’s, a video showed Mitchell calling for white counterparts to share in his activism.

“While the murder of George Floyd was at the center of everyone’s attention, too often we forget about black women like Breona Taylor,” Mitchell said in the video.

Taylor was sleeping in her home when she was shot and killed by police after officers served a “no-knock” warrant.

“Now, we call on our white counterparts to use their voices,” Mitchell said. “And talk about real change, and how they’ll make it happen.”

Time to Follow Leadership of Mitchell

Mitchell first appealed to Jazz fans for his desire to ‘fit in’ to the state of Utah. Mitchell’s high character seemed to resonate with what the franchise calls “Jazz DNA.”

Jazz DNA is often associated with a player’s mindset, culture, skills, and fit within the organization. While those traits can be applied to the team’s style of basketball, it can be equally applied to a player’s fit in the state of Utah.

Though Mitchell took steps to fit in with Utah, it’s now time the state and its fans find ways to fit in with All-Star guard.

Mitchell’s DNA has everything the team looks for — mindset, skill, culture, and a desire to fit in. But he’s also an activist, and a voice unlike any Jazz fans’ have heard before. It’s an important trait, and one the team needs to continue to embrace as a part of its makeup.

The support Mitchell received online proves fans are willing to stand up for their team’s star. Now, those voices need to echo his activism. For a fanbase that wants to shed its reputation for racism in the NBA, Mitchell is offering his leadership, and we in the state of Utah would be wise to follow.

 

 

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