For champion figure skater Nathan Chen, the Utah Jazz are a connection with home

by Aaron Falk

Nathan Chen keeps busy. The Salt Lake native is finishing up his freshman year at Yale. He is traveling the world, constantly training. Oh, and this weekend he dominated the field to defend his world figure skating title.

In between, the teenager keeps tabs on his fantasy basketball team.

“KD, Trae Young, J.J. Redick,” Chen says, listing off the NBA players on his squad. “Of course, I have Donovan.”

Chen’s sisters introduced him to the ice when the Winter Olympics came to Salt Lake City in 2002. His brother, though, introduced him to another important part of his life: basketball and the Utah Jazz.

“Salt Lake is such a huge part of my identity,” Chen said in a recent interview. “Having that connection from my true hometown is really dear to me. Especially when I’m not in Salt Lake, it’s important to have something like that that links me to home.”

Chen has become a basketball junkie.

He keeps a Utah Jazz jersey hung up in his dorm room in New Haven. And he follows the NBA closely. The skater has NBA League Pass so that he can watch games as he travels. He likes to watch the greats: Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. But he has a special place in his heart for Mitchell.

“He was this underdog story last year and he was able to keep his cool and keep his calm and be so consistent,” Chen said. “It was so cool to see a young player do that. Then he started this season a little slow and found a way to bounce back.”

Chen was a medal favorite heading into the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but struggled in his individual performances. As he prepares for redemption in 2022, Chen says he has been inspired Mitchell’s resilience and success on the court.

“It’s interesting to see how people deal with all of the difficulties related to their sport,” Chen said. “Whether it’s fans or media and those external forces. Or the free throw line. How do you zone that out?”

Chen sees some similarities between his style on the ice and Mitchell’s on the basketball court. Mitchell is a former Slam Dunk champ. Chen is one of the most powerful figure skaters ever and his routines feature a historic number of quadruple leaps. But when he sneaks away to shoot on the half court near his dorm, Chen admits there is a major difference between him and Spida.

“I can maybe graze the rim,” Chen said.

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