Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert are NBA All-Stars, but to them, it’s the fans who are shining
Utah Jazz teammates are heading to Cleveland this weekend to represent at the NBA All-Star Game
It’s a Saturday night and Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, with all of the riches anyone could ever ask for, celebrity connections and the world at his fingertips is at a middle school in Utah fulfilling a promise he made almost three years ago.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic he told assistant coach Mike Well’s son, Trent, that he would watch him play basketball. The last two years have made fulfilling that promise difficult, but last Saturday he showed up.
He tried to stay under the radar and not detract from the eighth-grade game, but he’s Donovan Mitchell. Slowly but surely, people started approaching him and asking for pictures and autographs and word traveled.
I was coaching 8th grade basketball games yesterday when all my players ran up telling me that @spidadmitchell was there. Just hanging out, watching a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds play basketball. He probably took 150 pictures with kids. Donovan gets it. We’re lucky pic.twitter.com/TupQf4aOEW— Carsen Williams (@carsenwill21) February 13, 2022
“That’s what it’s about for me,” Mitchell said. “Using my platform to just — I don’t need to see anybody or say anything — just being there and showing support. That makes a kids’ days, weeks, months, years, lives.”
At any given Jazz game, hours before tipoff, Rudy Gobert will be warming up on the court and there are already droves of fans, many of them children, watching him take solo shots from the free-throw line or stretch. Gobert walks over to a fan, a little girl that can’t be any older than 7. His hand is about as big as her torso and she beams as she high-fives the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
They ooh and ahh at the giant and rush over to hang over the stands near the tunnel when he exits the court. Gobert signs hats and shoes and jerseys and photos and kids walk away clutching a possession they’ll cherish for the rest of their life.
Mitchell and Gobert were both named NBA All-Stars for the third straight year and will head to Cleveland this weekend, and although the surroundings will be different, it’s those fan moments that are really what the whole weekend is about.
The NBA world descends on a city during All-Star weekend. There are Hall of Fame players, retired players, the biggest stars in the league, celebrities and entourages, events and parties. And at the center of all of it are the players who have been named the best in the league for that season and the fans that want to get a glimpse of them.
While that’s happening in Cleveland this year, the 2023 NBA All-Star game will be held right here in Salt Lake City.
“All of our fans and the city deserve it,” Gobert said. “I would love to be a part of it.”
The thought of starring in an All-Star game in front of their home crowd is almost overwhelming for the two Jazz stars.
“I haven’t gotten to Cleveland yet. Hopefully I make the game. It’s going to be something special.” — Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell on the thought of playing in next year’s All-Star Game in Salt Lake City
“I haven’t gotten to Cleveland yet,” Mitchell said with a laugh before knocking on the table in hopes that he will make his fourth All-Star team next season. “Hopefully I make the game. It’s going to be something special.”
It’s hard to imagine that Gobert and Mitchell wouldn’t be on next year’s All-Star team. Every season they continue to improve, making it impossible to leave them off an All-Star ballot.
This season Gobert is averaging career-highs in points, field goal percentage, free-throw percentage and rebounds. Mitchell is averaging a career-high in field goal percentage and has upped his game on the defensive end, picking up a career high in steals per game.
Every season, Utah’s All-Star duo makes it harder and harder to consider them anything other than just that — All-Stars. But they don’t look at it as an individual honor or an an achievement to be celebrated individually.
Gobert and Mitchell both point to the success and improvement of the Jazz and the effort and unselfishness of their teammates as the reason for them being able to be selected to the All-Star team. And in the end, it’s a moment to be celebrated with the fans that stand behind them even through the tough moments.
Gobert and Mitchell will be in meet-and-greets and sign autographs and take photos and put on a show in the All-Star Game in Cleveland, and then when they get back to Utah, they’ll get right back to what matters to them most.
Gobert will be catching the eye of a fan who sees him towering on the court at Vivint Arena and will wave to them like they’re the only two people in the arena, and Mitchell will continue to find ways to brighten the day of young basketball players right here on the Wasatch Front.
“I’m trying to catch a girls’ game next,” Mitchell said.