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Donovan Mitchell is not done yet: ‘I’m going to continue to use my voice back home’

The Utah Jazz are leaving the NBA bubble, and their star is already thinking about what’s next

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Utah Jazz are departing the NBA bubble after losing Game 7 to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. But for Donovan Mitchell, the trip was still a success in many ways.

Mitchell not only strengthened his reputation as one of the best young players in the NBA, but also as one of the league’s strongest voices against police brutality and racial inequality. He’s been so vocal that he said his mother has already told him to watch his back when he returns home.

​“I think the biggest thing is just people don’t always want to see a successful African American male, like myself, who’s well-spoken, educated,” Mitchell told The Undefeated. “Sometimes that’s a threat to people. And she’s expressed that to me. And I’ve started to understand that, for sure, because that is the case.

“It’s something that just isn’t everybody’s favorite thing to see. Everybody’s not your biggest fan. And that’s really where her nerves come from. And it’s just a mom loving her son. And at the end of the day, that’s every African American.”

Mitchell has been in Orlando, Florida, since July for the NBA restart. He entered the first Game 7 of his career averaging 38.7 points per game against the Nuggets – the second-highest scoring average in a series entering a Game 7. The third-year guard scored a team-high 22 points in Game 7, but the Jazz ultimately lost 80-78 after Mike Conley’s potential series-winning 3-pointer rolled out of the rim at the buzzer.

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Spida left it all on the floor 🙏

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An emotional Mitchell lay on the floor in disappointment after the defeat. When he arrived minutes later to talk to the media, he was teary-eyed. But instead of wallowing in the season-ending loss, Mitchell turned his attention to the pain of those who have lost family members to police brutality.

“The pain that is on my face right now and the way I feel, I can only imagine what is going through these victims’ families,” Mitchell said. “I’m probably going to go back there and cry and s—, but I want to go out and say, like, this is a game. People lost their family members to police brutality and racism and s—. So, I want to say that. Because the way I’m feeling, f—, sorry. The way I’m feeling right now is nothing compared to that.”

Throughout the NBA restart, Mitchell has talked in media interviews about Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was fatally shot by Louisville, Kentucky, police on March 13. Mitchell, who went to the University of Louisville, has worn the message “Say Her Name” on his jersey in Orlando.

Mitchell says his upbringing has helped him understand both the Black and white experience in America, explaining that he grew up around more white people than Black people in the New York City suburb of Elmsford. As the son of a New York Mets executive, Mitchell spent a lot of time in his youth in MLB locker rooms and also attended two prestigious private boarding schools.

“I was around wealthy white kids my whole life, so I see the other side,” Mitchell said.

“I know the thoughts behind these certain actions. I’m not saying that my friends were people that really had those thoughts, but I know the ignorance that they may not even know. And I think that’s what, for me, it’s like I want to speak out on those things because there’s certain things that white people don’t even understand that are just different.

“I texted my friends why turning down the music is a thing for me. Why not wearing a hood is a thing. Why when we go to a meeting I have to wear khaki pants. Those type of things. It’s like an informal dress code that you have when you go certain places.”

Mitchell has been able to adapt to playing in Salt Lake City, which is about 65% white and less than 2% Black. And while he’s seen his share of racism during his three years with the Jazz – including in response to a message he posted to Instagram on Juneteenth – he said he is choosing to educate.

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Mitchell has joined Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony as backers of the Social Change Fund, which empowers communities of color and advocates for Black rights. He has posted on social media about supporting Black-owned businesses. And he says it is important for him to use his voice for kids who don’t have a platform. He recently donated $45,000 to support the education of the kids of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 23 and is now partially paralyzed.

“I try and speak my mind so people understand that this is never-ending. It needs to stop. We need to continue to speak up, and I think for myself and other athletes, not just in basketball but the world, we have done a great job,” Mitchell said.

A week ago, the Milwaukee Bucks sent shock waves throughout the sports world by sitting out a playoff game against the Orlando Magic to protest the Blake shooting. The rest of the NBA teams in the bubble followed suit, as did the WNBA, MLB, NHL and tennis star Naomi Osaka.

NBA playoff games resumed after three days when players were able to get all 30 owners to agree to try to turn their arenas into polling sites for the presidential election in November. The refocused NBA players have turned their attention to voting and police reform as their main objectives off the court.

Mitchell was proud of the statement the NBA players made.

“It stands to why we all came out and what the league stands for, what the owners stand for,” Mitchell said. “But there’s more work to do.

“I think we all have Milwaukee’s back. What they did was great, because we all needed a pause from just life. Like I said, ‘Basketball is very small compared to what the hell’s going on in this world.’ And I think we need to be reminded of that. … Everybody’s been reminded that we don’t deserve to be shot six, seven times in the back as an African American male or female. I think we just needed time to look. If y’all want to see us play, if y’all want to watch us, you have to hear us.”

While Mitchell’s 2019-20 season has come to an end, he promises to use his platform for social justice outside of the bubble. And he hopes the players remaining in the bubble will continue to speak up.

“I feel like I’ve used my voice in the best way possible, and I’m going to continue to use my voice back home,” Mitchell said. “I implore everyone here, they’ve been doing a great job, to continue to push. The more these games escalate and get closer to Finals, I hope guys continue to use their voice, because people are listening and things are starting to turn. We have to keep going.”

Donovan Mitchell (center) of the Utah Jazz during the national anthem before a game against the Denver Nuggets during Game 7 of the NBA playoffs on Sept. 1 at the AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

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Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.