No NBA city is perfect, but the one market that constantly seems to create issues between players and fans is Salt Lake City. The Utah Jazz have played there for more than four decades, but a common thread in that time has been players expressing frustration at the actions of the fan base there. Both Russell Westbrook and Ja Morant have had run-ins with those fans in recent years, but even the Utah players themselves have struggled in their interactions with them.
Donovan Mitchell is one of those players. He spent the first five seasons of his career in Utah, but now that he’s a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he’s opening up about the way fans treated him in his original NBA hometown.
“It’s no secret that there’s a lot I dealt with being in Utah off the court,” Mitchell told Andscaped’s Marc J. Spears. “If I’m honest with you, I never actually said this, but it was exhausting. It was just draining my energy just because you can’t sit in your room and cheer me up and then do all these different things.” I’m not specifically saying all the fans, but I feel like it was a lot of things. [Utah] state senator [Stuart Adams] saying that I need to educate myself on my own black history. Seeing black kids being bullied because of their skin color. seeing a girl [Isabella Tichenor] hang herself because she is being bullied”.
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Now that Mitchell is playing in the more diverse Cleveland, he called it “a blessing to be back with people who look like me.” He also told the story of a particularly stressful interaction with a police officer. “I got pulled over once. I got an attitude from a cop until I gave him my ID,” Mitchell explained. “And that always made me wonder what happens to the young black man in Utah who doesn’t have that power to just say, ‘This is who I am.’ And that was one of the things I took seriously.”
Sadly, racism exists in every NBA market, and indeed throughout the United States. It cannot be completely avoided. But Mitchell’s stories about Utah aren’t unique to his experience there. Many players have expressed issues with the fans in Salt Lake City. Mitchell is happy to have found a new home, but it’s unfortunate that he had to deal with these issues in the first place.