Donovan Mitchell led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 122-99 win on Monday over the Utah Jazz team that traded him in this offseason.
Before the game, he told Andscape’s Marc J. Spears about his time in Salt Lake City and his relationship with former teammate Rudy Gobert. He told Spears in an interview published Monday that “we’ve done a lot of special things,” while acknowledging that a jazz team led by himself and Gobert that never advanced to the Western Conference finals fell short of expectations.
“Basketball just didn’t work,” Mitchell said of his relationship with Gobert.
Mitchell, who played five seasons in Utah, also spoke about the challenges of being a black athlete in a predominantly white city, an experience he says changed for him in Cleveland. He described his experience in Utah as “exhausting.”
“If I’m being honest with you, I never really said this, but it was exhausting,” Mitchell told Spears. “It just drained my energy just because you can’t sit in your room and cheer for me and then do all these different things.”
Mitchell cited an incident where 10-year-old Isabella Tichenor took her own life amid allegations of bullying. He also referred to Utah State Senator Stuart Adams suggesting that Mitchell needed an education after Mitchell spoke out against a critical resolution on race theory in the state legislature.
“I’m not saying every fan specifically, but I just feel like it was a lot of things. A senator telling me to teach my own black history. Seeing black kids being bullied because of their skin color. A little girl hanging herself because she’s being bullied.”
Mitchell called pushback against his racial equality advocacy “a lot” and said it was hard not to see many black people in the stands at Jazz home games.
“And so as not to see many of us in the crowd, I’ve done my best to make sure I invite young black and brown kids to games, to be with the community,” Mitchell continued. “But not seeing us there was definitely tough.
“And now that we’re in Cleveland, you see us in court. It’s just refreshing. It’s a blessing to be back around people who look like me.”
Mitchell liked the change of scenery. He led the Cavs with 23 points in just 23 minutes on Monday and rested on the bench during the fourth quarter of the win. He hit 4 of 5 3-pointers while shooting 8 of 12 from the field. The effort has become the norm since the trade with Mitchell averaging 29.5 points per game while shooting 50.3% from the field and 42.4% from 3-point distance. His performance creates MVP buzz.
Monday’s win improved the Cavs to 21-11, including an NBA-best 15-2 at home. After the game, Mitchell continued the talk about basketball while acknowledging that “it’s different when you play against your friendsthe guys you’ve been in a locker room with, you’ve competed with.”
Monday’s game was in Cleveland. He expects the January 10 rematch to strike differently upon his return to Utah.
“Always good to play against your boys,” Mitchell told reporters. “I think the bigger game will probably be when we go back out.”
Also worth circling on the calendar: January 14 against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It will be Mitchell’s first chance to take on Gobert, who also traded the Jazz in the off-season. Mitchell missed a November 13 game in Cleveland with an ankle sprain.
“I’m going to give him a hug and be happy to see him,” Mitchell told Spears of Gobert. “And I wish him well. There is no hatred. There is no ill will towards any of that.”