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Patrick Kinahan: How will Jazz fans react to Mitchell's return?


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SALT LAKE CITY — All of us, right down to the last one even remotely interested in the Jazz, anxiously await Donovan Mitchell's return to the place he spent his first five seasons in the NBA.

Specifically, the focus will be on the home crowd reaction to Mitchell when his Cleveland Cavaliers team play the Jazz on Tuesday night. Without a lecture that may accompany these types of stories, hopefully fans enthusiastically acknowledge his immense contributions to the franchise and don't offer more of the "I told you so" mentality often attached to the state.

Mitchell probably is the most polarizing homegrown Jazz All-Star, transitioning from a unproven young player to the top option on a perennial playoff team. The effervescent guard was an immediate hit with the passionate fans desperate to connect with the franchise's players.

The timing worked well, with Mitchell replacing departed All-Star Gordon Hayward on and off the court. Hayward was more standoffish, the opposite of a player who seemingly appeared at various sporting events all over the community.

Mirroring his growing stature on the team and in the league, Mitchell took to his role as a leader and began speaking out on the social issues that dominated news coverage. He often used portions of media sessions to address racial injustices across the country.

Along the way, Mitchell encountered some pushback from his strong stances on various issues. Judging by his comments months after the Jazz traded him to Cleveland, Mitchell grew weary off the resistance.

Speaking recently to ESPN's Andscape, Mitchell said: "It's no secret there's a lot of stuff that I dealt with being in Utah off the floor. If I'm being honest with you, I never really said this, but it was draining.

"It was just draining on my energy just because you can't sit in your room and cheer for me and then do these different things. I'm not saying specifically every fan, but I just feel like it was a lot of things. A (Utah) state senator (Stuart Adams) saying I need to get educated on my own Black history. Seeing Black kids getting bullied because of their skin color. Seeing a little girl (Isabella Tichenor) hang herself because she's being bullied.

"Man, it's just one thing after another. And I will say, it's not the only place it happens. But for me, I'm continuing to be an advocate for (racial equality) and to receive the amount of pushback I got over the years, it was a lot."

Mitchell revealed he had to deal with a police officer's attitude after getting pulled over while driving before he produced identification. The story did not specify any other particulars related to the incident.

He's also more comfortable playing in Cleveland than in Salt Lake City, saying he sees more people that look like him in the crowd. Demographics obviously support Mitchell, a New York native who attended private schools in Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Mitchell also had conflict with teammate and fellow All-Star Rudy Gobert, with the spat going public after the COVID situation forced the NBA to suspend all games in March 2020. Jazz management repeatedly insisted the two got along, but both were traded last summer.

Now with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Gobert had a different view on his nine years with the Jazz. He took the bigger approach rather than single out Utah in an interview with The New York Times.

"My family and I always had a lot of love over there. But I can understand, for me, being an NBA player and for a young Black man that's maybe the only Black guy in his school, treatment can be different. People talk about Utah, but it's similar everywhere when there's not a lot of diversity. It's part of every society in the world that people can be marginalized for being different color of skin, different religion. There's always going to be kids at school going to bully people for being different."

We'll see Tuesday how the fans at Vivint Arena react to their once beloved star.

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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