CHICAGO — At some point, Donovan Mitchell developed a chip on his shoulder.
It might have been when he was drafted 13th overall in 2017, a lottery pick, but not considered one of the best in his draft class. It might have been when he was runner-up for Rookie of the Year honors, losing out to Ben Simmons. It might have been when he was knocked out of the playoffs.
“There were times where I thought I was going to be picked fifth or sixth because I felt like I was at that point,” he said of feeling passed over in the early stages of the NBA draft. “Once you get drafted though that’s just step one.”
No matter when it was, Mitchell feels like he has something to prove. He expects a lot from himself.
Because his own expectations are so high, he’s pushed himself to excel and has been rewarded with a very charmed young NBA life.
“I’ve said before that I didn’t think I would be here but I’m at a point in my career where this has to be it,” Mitchell said of the success that he expects.
Although Mitchell is making his All-Star Game debut this weekend, he hasn’t lived an NBA year without heading to the All-Star host city and taking part in at least one of the weekend’s events. Mitchell has never experienced a non-playoff season. He has been recognized as one of the young talented players that will usher in the next era of the NBA.
On Friday night, Mitchell sat courtside during the Rising Stars Challenge and was a part of the broadcast team commentating as the game played out.
The Rising Stars Challenge is a game that highlights the best and brightest of the NBA’s freshmen and sophomore players. It’s a game that Mitchell was selected to play in both of his first two years.
As he watched his childhood friend Eric Paschall of the Golden State Warriors on the court, he reminisced about how far kids who used to live across the street from each other have come. As he spoke of Paschall being selected 41st overall in the 2019 draft, a little bit of the chip that Mitchell carries with him started to come out.
“It’s not about where you get picked,” he said. “You just go out there and compete and hoop.”
It’s that competitive spirit that has driven Mitchell to the success that he’s had thus far in the NBA. It led to him winning the Slam Dunk contest his rookie year. It led to playing in the Rising Stars Challenge consecutive years. It led to him playing in the playoffs consecutive years. And finally, it’s led to him being an All-Star in just his third year in the league.
Of course, the early success he has experienced has given him a new kind of chip. He knows that he hasn’t had to live through losing seasons or on a rebuilding team, and he’ll do anything to stay at the top and to go even higher.
“Being in the playoffs every year has allowed me to realize how important it is to get there,” he said. “I think the guys that haven’t been there, they just don’t know the significance of it.”
The significance that Mitchell is talking about is the overwhelming sense of glory and achievement that comes with a playoff victory or the crushing blow of defeat when you are forced to go home and watch someone else advance.
“In my first year, we beat Oklahoma City and I remember that feeling, then we get beat in the first round by Houston and even though you’re on vacation you’re just pissed,” he said. “Now, the playoffs are the norm. They have to be expected.”
Anything less would be a failure in Mitchell’s eyes, and all of this is coming from a player who is just 23 years old, days away from his first All-Star Game, and has only played two full seasons of NBA basketball.
Even so, Mitchell wants more. He continues to raise the stakes for himself and push the expectations that he has even higher. An All-Star selection is great, for both him and his teammate Rudy Gobert, but it’s really just a step along the way.
“This isn’t the end all,” Mitchell said. “We have bigger goals in mind.”
It can sometimes be difficult as a competitive person who is constantly trying to prove himself to take a step back and enjoy the moment. So Mitchell has made it a point to allow himself to soak in everything that the All-Star weekend has to offer.
He wants to make sure that he enjoys himself and remembers how much he used to dream of making it to this point.
“It’s really surreal,” he said. “I’m living this weekend as a kid. I’m not Donovan Mitchell on the Utah Jazz; I’m Donovan Mitchell, the kid who lived in Greenwich, Connecticut. That’s me, and that’s who I am right now, just having fun.”
The fun can’t last forever though.
As soon as the weekend is over, it’s back to work and Mitchell has just one thing on his mind: taking the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals. It’s a lofty goal, but all of Mitchell’s goals in life have been lofty — that’s the way he likes it. He enjoys proving people wrong. He operates well with this chip on his shoulder.