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Donovan Mitchell was voice for change that the Jazz and Utah needed

Whether it be his friendly interaction with fans or taking a stand on important issues, Mitchell seemed to embrace his time in Utah and the stage his celebrity afforded

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Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell fist-bumps fans after a game against the Charlotte Hornets at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell fist-bumps fans after a game against the Charlotte Hornets at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

To talk about Donovan Mitchell as a basketball player and competitor and teammate would be painting with broad strokes.

To really fill in the details, you also have to talk about Donovan Mitchell the person, the philanthropist, the activist, the Black man who wanted to be a voice for something bigger than basketball.

The Jazz have never had a player like Mitchell, who wanted to involve himself so much with the community, be so visible and speak so loudly. Not only was Mitchell an advocate for many causes, but he had a reach that was bigger than any other athlete in Utah.

Despite his celebrity and his immediate success in the NBA, Mitchell made sure that he was accessible to Jazz fans.

He would show up to Fourth of July parties, he would respond to fans on social media and give away tickets, shoes and jerseys. He attended sporting events for local middle schools, high schools and colleges. He would stop and talk with fans when he was out in the city, take selfies when someone recognized him at the airport or at a restaurant. He didn’t have to do those things, but he wanted to.

Mitchell was an advocate early on for equity in education and showed up for local schools that were in need. Always pointing to his mother, who is an educator and instilled the importance of access to equitable education, Mitchell aligned himself early on with area schools.

He kept a close relationship with Kearns High throughout his time with the Jazz, providing supplies and showing up to assemblies. He donated money to support the meal programs in the Granite School District, he partnered with global brands to help in his efforts and again, no one ever asked him to do these things.

When it came to racial inequality and issues of social justice, Mitchell used the platform he’d earned to be a voice for compassion and change. Mitchell spoke loudly and publicly about the need for reform.

Whether it was about the killing of unarmed Black people at the hands of police officers, or issues of equity and opportunity for people of color at every stage of life, Mitchell stood tall even when there were many who would have rather he stand down.

When Mitchell spoke out about the 2020 killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the majority of responses he received were ones of encouragement. But the responses that called him “delusional,” or told him to “leave if you don’t like it,” were the ones that emboldened him.

Like it or not, Utah has a reputation for being insular. With a population that is 90% white and just 1.5% Black or African American, Utah needed a voice like Mitchell’s. He pushed back against the notion that Black athletes should just perform without using their voice for change.

“There’s a feeling that the same people who cheer for you on the court will then turn around and rally for policy that disenfranchises the people of color in this state, and that doesn’t feel good,” a team source told the Deseret News. “Now that Donovan is leaving, who is going to take up that mantle?”

Mitchell’s willingness to be an activist and advocate for change and progress were something that was a benefit not just to the Jazz, but to the communities that the Jazz serve.

This week I’ve been reflecting and writing about the person Donovan Mitchell was away from the court, and it would be wrong to look back on Mitchell’s time with the Jazz and just remember him as a basketball player when he was more than that. He was a voice that the Jazz and Utah needed.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell leaves the floor after Game 6 first-round playoff defeat to Dallas in Salt Lake City.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell leaves the floor after Game 6 first-round playoff game against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in Salt Lake City. The Mavericks defeated the Jazz 98-96 and advanced to the second round.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News