Though Donovan Mitchell was beloved during his time with the Utah Jazz, there is no doubt that the team’s fans don’t have the best reputation.
In fact, the Jazz fan base has been accused of racism many times in the past. For Mitchell, he recently admitted that playing in Cleveland and seeing the city’s many Black residents in the stands at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse has been a rejuvenating experience.
“It’s a little comforting for me, 100%,” he said when asked by Marc J. Spears of Andscape about playing in a predominately Black city. “I’m not going to lie about that. It’s no secret there’s a lot of stuff that I dealt with being in Utah off the floor. 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.
“Man, it was just one thing after another. And I will say, it’s not the only place it happens. But for me, I’m continuing to be an advocate for [racial equality] and to receive the amount of pushback I got over the years, it was a lot.”
One can only imagine how hard it must be for Black NBA players to put on a Jazz uniform if they feel that the team’s fan base is not truly behind them. Mitchell opened up about the direct and indirect prejudice he himself faced during his five years with the franchise.
“It first started, when I posted a photo for Juneteenth, and it said ‘Free-ish’ before the [NBA] bubble,” he said. “And really in the bubble, too, people just started nonstop going at me like, ‘Man, you don’t know what you’re talking about. There is injustice everywhere. It’s not just Black people.’ I’m just like, ‘Y’all have no idea.’ I took on a lot because I felt like I could do it. But at some point, it became a lot to have to deal with.
“And then to be able to not see many of us in the crowd, I tried my best to make sure I invite young Black and brown kids to games, to be around the community. But just to not see us there, it was definitely tough. And being in Cleveland now, you see us courtside. It’s just refreshing. It’s a blessing to be back around people that look like me.
“But as far as Utah, it became a lot to have to deal with on a nightly basis. I got pulled over once. I got an attitude from a cop until I gave him my ID. 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.”
Though Mitchell may not have had the Cavs as his top destination prior to the blockbuster trade that brought him to Cleveland last summer, it is clear that he is incredibly grateful to call the Ohio city home now.
Of course, he is likely thinking about the change from Salt Lake City to Cleveland even more right now, as the Jazz will visit the Cavs for a Monday night clash.
For Mitchell, he’s going to do all he can to get a win versus his former squad. He’s averaging 29.5 points per game so far this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him outperform that average against the Jazz.
If the Cavs can get the win on Monday, they will be one of just three teams in the NBA with 21 or more wins on the season.