SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell thought he might be sending his final goodbyes. He had heard the boom of the birds striking the left engine of the Utah Jazz's chartered flight on Tuesday and began to think his time was short.
So he took his phone and texted his mom, his sister and his dad, explained the situation and said, "This could be it."
"That's a scary thought," Mitchell said, speaking about the dramatic experience publicly for the first time on Friday. "Just kind of saying, 'I love you guys.' Literally writing what could have been your last words. I think that was just for me just the scariest part."
It was a terrifying moment for the entire team, but it maybe hit Mitchell the hardest. The All-Star guard has never been shy about his fear of flying. Yes, he's boarded hundreds upon hundreds of flights during his NBA career, but that fear still remains.
So when it was time for the Jazz to hop back on a second plane after the emergency landing on Tuesday, Mitchell wasn't yet ready to come along.
"Some things are just bigger than the game of basketball itself," Mitchell said. "And that right there was it for me. Everybody kind of has their different things — mine happens to be flying, as y'all know. I've never had a situation like that. I've had bad turbulence days. But I've never had a situation like that."
His mind was still reeling from what he thought were going to be his last moments, his texts, his last thoughts. The thought of sending his last words to his family affected him deeply. He wasn't mentally ready to hop on another plane.
"I just needed to take that time because it just wasn't feeling, sitting right with me to go on the trip," he said.
Mitchell's teammates and coaches supported the decision to stay behind, with Jordan Clarkson stating that he understood "fully why Don didn't come."
But what about future trips?
The Jazz will be home for their next two games but will board a flight for Dallas on Sunday for a game against the Mavericks. Mitchell fully anticipates being on that plane — and on every plane moving forward.
Yes, Mitchell said he'd like to pull a John Madden — who famously never took a plane during his broadcasting career — and drive to every game, but he knows that isn't a possibility.
"I have a job to do — understand that that comes with the job," Mitchell said about flying. "I took the time that I needed to kind of just mentally get myself in a good place. I'll be fine come Sunday. I just needed that day mentally."
It felt like a near-death experience in a situation he was already uncomfortable with. He took the day and now he's ready to continue the season — planes and all.
"I've calmed down, and I'll be good, at least I think, for the rest of the season," Mitchell said.
Mitchell has overcome his fear of flying before, and he'll do so again. So the lasting thing from Tuesday's experience for Mitchell isn't a newfound terror, but an extra appreciation for life. The events of the last week have inspired Mitchell to be a better version of himself — as a brother, a son, a teammate, and a friend.
"I'm here for a reason and that's kind of my focus," Mitchell said. "I'm here and let's go out there and be the best Donovan that I can be on a day-to-day basis. Whether it's with my family, my friends, on the team, on the court, to be the best me that I can be day by day, because that's really what I was able to take away from these events is just trying to be the best to you. And just be loving and never take anyone for granted."