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Donovan Mitchell says ‘it needs to change’ after latest fan verbal altercation at Vivint Arena

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell shoots over Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant in Salt Lake City on March 26, 2021.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) shoots over Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) during the game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 26, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The day after the Utah Jazz banned three fans from Vivint Arena indefinitely for their role in a verbal altercation directed at the family of young Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant on Wednesday night, All-Star Donovan Mitchell and head coach Quin Snyder addressed the situation with media.

While answering “no” to whether this sort of incident changes his opinions of Jazz fans, Mitchell said, “I think the biggest thing is it’s really messed up that people think that’s a place to just come in and to do that, one, and two, to do it in general.”

Mitchell noted that his mom and sister go to as many games as they can, and he put himself in Morant’s shoes (Morant said Friday that he could tell something was amiss during the game). As such, he reached out to Morant to commend him for the way he has handled the situation.

“It needs to change,” Mitchell said, mentioning incidents of player harassment this week by fans in other NBA cities. “Enough is enough, man. I feel like banning them is great, but I don’t think they should be back. I understand there’s more to it than that and I understand that that’s what the league and team is working on, but I feel like there’s no place for that in life, not even just in the game of basketball.”

Mitchell feels that there’s a dichotomy between what the Jazz organization is trying to do by giving scholarships to kids from underrepresented groups and the sort of incident that happened Wednesday.

“I feel like it’s kind of contradicting when stuff like this happens, and I feel like it’s kind of messed up that it happens,” he said. “It’s not just a Utah thing. It’s happened here before. It’s happened here a few times since I’ve been here, and it’s something that I’m really passionate about because at the end of the day, we play for the Jazz.

“What you’re saying about Ja’s mother and father, you’re saying to my mother and father, (Derrick Favors’) mother and father. It’s not like you’re speaking to the Grizzlies. No, you’re speaking to a Black man, Black woman, and I feel like that’s first. Basketball is what it is, but that’s first, and that’s what we are — we’re African American men and women first, and when you go out there and say something like that, that’s terrible and ridiculous.”

Mitchell was asked by ESPN’s Nick Friedell whether the reputation Utah has of having fans who display inappropriate behavior will be a hindrance to the team signing free agents — a question that has been asked many times over the years of members of the Jazz organization.

“I don’t think so,” Mitchell said, noting the leadership of previous team owner Gail Miller and now Ryan Smith and Dwyane Wade.

“We’ve shown we put our foot forward and foot down on these incidents,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got guys that want to be here.”

That said, Mitchell said there’s a reputation around the league about Salt Lake City and Utah.

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” he said. “There is a rep that this happens here. As we’ve seen, there’s incidents that happen everywhere, but I don’t think necessarily that it will have an impact. I don’t know, but I don’t think it’ll necessarily have an impact on guys’ decisions whether they want to come here or not.”

Before taking questions, Snyder issued an apology to Morant and his family.

“No one should have to be subjected to the kind of behavior that they were the other night,” he said. “It’s deplorable, and the people that made those comments should be banned, banned for life, and again I’m sorry for (the Morants) to have to endure that, and as I said, it’s deplorable and concerning and should not be tolerated.”