ATLANTA — Naja Brooks thought she was going to State Farm Arena simply to watch Donovan Mitchell play. She thought she was staying late after the game just to catch up with the Mitchells — who she grew up with in Greenwich, Connecticut. But she was there for much more.
What she got was life-altering.
On the Atlanta Hawks court long after the crowd had gone home, Mitchell presented Brooks — the daughter of his fourth-grade teacher — a check for $25,000 to finish college.
When Brooks saw it, she immediately burst into tears, hardly being able to take it all in. She is attending the Atlanta-based Savannah College of Art and Design and will be a senior in the fall. The money should allow her to pay for the rest of school. And that's meaningful because of what Brooks' mother did for Mitchell growing up.
“They helped me out, not even just in the classroom,” Mitchell said. “They helped my mom out, whether it was financially when we were going through something, help babysitting when we were going through something."
On Thursday, he got to give back.
Mitchell’s new foundation, SPIDACARES, is becoming wide-reaching. When he released the details of the foundation, he talked about helping women gain equal pay. After a fan confronted Russell Westbrook causing a media firestorm surrounding the Jazz crowd, Mitchell pledged to use it to help with race relations in the country and throughout the league. And now he’s using it to help someone go to school.
And all that shows one thing: Mitchell just wants to give back. He grew up with Brooks’ family. He learned from her mother, played basketball for hours and hours after school with her brother, and she was the one that would babysit his younger sister, Jordan.
The family was an important part of his childhood and he credits them for helping shape him into the man he has become. Why not give back?
“None of us in fourth grade expected this to happen, so for me to be here and to be able to understand that she needed that money to graduate,” Mitchell said. “I can do that I can help out. It was just a no brainer.”
Mitchell knows he’s been blessed. He said that without basketball, he’d be the one struggling to pay for tuition and finish school. And so Mitchell wants to use what basketball has given him to bless others.
“This is the first of many,” he said. “This won’t be the last.”