NEW YORK — The steady line of people entering the Jazz locker room on Wednesday night following their 137-116 win over the Knicks never seemed to end. As the pool of reporters huddled tightly together in the modest visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden, it caused one New York-based reporter to compare the scene to when the Cavaliers came to the city with one LeBron James.
This was a March game against the Jazz. Those don’t usually come with a media circus.
While there were some from international outlets looking to speak with Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio and Raul Neto, the majority of them were there for Mitchell. The kid from New York City’s backyard. The kid whose father works for the New York Mets organization. The kid who got away and became a star.
That’s why the comparison had some merit. Those Cavs squads were small-market teams with a star that was anything but. And with each 30-point game (not to mention win), with each new endorsement deal and with each charisma-filled interview, Mitchell’s star grows and grows and grows.
“He’s a big-time player,” New York coach David Fizdale said of Mitchell after the second-year shooting guard dropped 30 on the Knicks.
On Wednesday morning, a Kobe Bryant-directed commercial for BodyArmor was released starring James Harden and Mitchell. It was BodyArmor’s official declaration as the official sport’s drink of the NCAA Tournament and was the company’s largest campaign ever, according to a press release.
And the company used Mitchell to do it. He has turned into a bankable star.
“The commercial was really funny,” Mitchell said. “Shout out to Kobe. I think he’s putting as much effort as he did into studying the game as he is into film and his life off the court. So it's really special to see the dedication and passion behind it.”
Rubbing shoulders with greats has helped Mitchell both off the court and on it. During his rookie season, star after star approached him after games. He reached out to Dwyane Wade for advice over the summer and developed a friendship. And now he’s starring in commercials for national brands.
But he’s been getting help long before his NBA days.
Mitchell didn’t grow up dreaming of dropping 30 points in Madison Square Garden like he did on Wednesday night. He grew up dreaming of playing at Shea Stadium and hitting home runs. He grew up wanting to be a New York Met.
With his dad working in the organization, Mitchell's childhood was spent among some of the Mets players. He sat in on hitting sessions with David Wright and pitching sessions with Pedro Martinez. He listened and he learned. Not just about the skills — though, Mitchell did that too (an injury he suffered during his sophomore season of high school turned his attention away from baseball to basketball) — but about how they prepared.
“I think routine,” Mitchell said of what lessons he took from growing up among professional athletes. “Allowed me to get into a routine … develop that kind of consistency. I think that's what really helps you to get the best out of yourself and continue to be that way. A guy like David Wright, who I have been studying essentially since I was a child. He was a creature of habit, a creature of routine, that’s where I got it from it.”
Mitchell has seen his consistency improve since the start of the new year. He has dropped at least 20 points in all but three games since January 5. In that time, he’s won two Western Conference Player of the Week awards.
“The thing that I remember about all the guys I coach, the great ones are all consistent,” Washington head coach Scott Brooks said. “They don't change with a bad night, they don’t change with a good night. Every day, it’s like groundhog day. … You have to maximize your talents every day, (Mitchell) seems like that type of player.”
And that has made Mitchell one exciting player and Utah one exciting team.
Just ask the New York media.