Tell me you don’t watch a lot of Utah Jazz basketball, without telling me you don’t watch a lot of Utah Jazz basketball.

Here’s what ESPN broadcaster Mark Jackson said about Donovan Mitchell during the first quarter of the Jazz’s Game 6 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

“I thought he should have had consideration, until he got hurt, for legitimate MVP votes. He carried this team at times during the regular season.”

Listen, if you want to make a case for Mitchell as an MVP candidate, be my guest. But what made the Jazz so special through the regular season is that no one player carried the team at any time. It was the unselfish, team-first mentality that carried the Jazz and then the role players that stepped up when Mitchell was injured.

But Jackson’s misguided compliment of Mitchell wasn’t the worst thing he said that night.

Mitchell’s ankle injury had been well documented. His frustration from not being able to play in Game 1 of the first round because the Jazz medical staff felt he wasn’t ready led to him coming back in Game 2 against the Memphis Grizzlies. Mitchell wasn’t fully healed.

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The Jazz’s All-Star guard had tried to brush away concerns about the injury hampering him in the postseason. He tried to hide the amount of pain he was in, and he did his best to keep the winces and grimaces to a minimum — until he couldn’t. He literally limped off the floor in three of the six games against the Clippers. And still, Jackson suggested that Mitchell’s injury was not as bad as reported.

“You can’t make a move like that on me and then the announcers say he’s hobbled, the ankle is not right,” Jackson said after Mitchell euro-stepped around Nicolas Batum to score in the first quarter. “He’s fine.”

As Mitchell continued to make those moves and continued to push off his right ankle through that game, his mobility decreased, he lost speed, his limp was more pronounced and it was clear that he was indeed hobbled. The ankle was not right, Mitchell was not fine.

Even so, Jackson doubled-down on his assertion and insinuated that Mitchell is able to avoid criticism by being injured, or being perceived as injured.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” Jackson said. “If you’re not playing well it’s the ankle. And, if you’re rolling against me, you’re a hero. You can’t lose.”

As if that wasn’t already irresponsible commentary, co-commentator Jeff Van Gundy got in on the action.

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“I’m with Mark,” Van Gundy said. “His ankle is hurting, I’m sure. But you can play that to your advantage, too. Guys think you’re hobbled a little bit and then you just explode by them.”


When has an injury made the defense relax in the playoffs? These commentators are former NBA coaches. They should know that the defenses lock in even more when they see an advantage. I doubt very seriously that the Clippers players were thinking, Well, Donovan is hurt so we don’t have to pay attention to ... Oh no! He just ran right by me.”

And again, Mitchell was doing everything he could to not let it look like the ankle was bothering him. 

You’d think that was enough from the broadcast crew, but Jackson made sure to get in one last jab. The ESPN broadcast showed a slow-motion shot of Mitchell grimacing after hitting a 3-pointer and landing on his right foot.

“And he did that on one leg,” Jackson said sarcastically while laughing.

I have no idea why Jackson went with this angle, how this benefitted the in-game commentary, or why he’d keep going back to it. What was clear to me is that Jackson didn’t know much about this Jazz team, hadn’t seen much of what Mitchell looked like when he was playing at full strength, and without that knowledge he put out some really irresponsible and offensive takes on national television.

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Mitchell did not avoid criticism because of the ankle injury. Mitchell’s defensive effort despite the injury has been questioned, his turnovers have been noted and his decisions on offense have been criticized.

What’s more, Mitchell’s emergence as one of the most dynamic scorers in the league has caused people to gloss over the injury. Not everyone watches every single Jazz basketball game. So when Mitchell finishes Game 6 with a stat line of 39 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, it’s difficult for them to imagine that he was held back at all by an injury. 

As someone who watches every minute of every Jazz game and often more than once, I can say confidently that Mitchell could have done more and could have been better if he wasn’t injured.

A great example of this was on Monday’s episode of “The Lowe Post,” a podcast hosted by ESPN reporter Zach Lowe. 

“Donovan Mitchell on an ankle injury that everyone is sitting there saying, ‘Well he can’t, he’s got no explosion, blah blah blah.’ He just put up like 33 a game in the series and shot, I think it was 36 of 80, 45% on 3s,” Lowe said. “Yeah, maybe he didn’t have his burst on either end of the floor as the Clippers just drove right by him ... but it’s not like he was out there limping around like a zombie doing nothing. The guy was making shots all the time.”

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Mitchell has expanded his range and become a very skilled pull-up 3-point shooter during this season, and it’s one of the few things he had at his disposal during the playoffs, especially when his ankle couldn’t handle any more drives or pivots and the Clippers were blowing past him because he didn’t have the strength on a bum ankle to properly defend. The fact that he was hurt really mattered and if he wasn’t, he might have scored 50 points a game, as we saw him do against the Denver Nuggets last season during the playoffs.

While Lowe’s comments lack context, they are not nearly as frustrating as a national broadcaster suggesting that a player is faking an injury or being performative about an injury in order to avoid criticism.

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When Anthony Davis was grimacing and having trouble playing in the playoffs for the Los Angeles Lakers, the broadcast teams didn’t accuse him of acting more injured than he was. When James Harden was having trouble moving when he was playing on an injured hamstring for the Brooklyn Nets, the broadcast crew complimented his toughness and will.

Mitchell played for nearly a month on an injured ankle and never asked for praise or for critics to go easy on him. If anything he was hard on himself and denied that the ankle was an excuse for anything.

Jackson should be ashamed for trying to use Mitchell’s injury against him, for speaking about something that he clearly didn’t understand and for laughing about it on a national broadcast. He did the audience a disservice.

Sarah Todd covers the Utah Jazz for the Deseret News.

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