When NBA 2K updated its rosters after last year’s NBA Draft, Donovan Mitchell was thrilled to get the chance to play as himself in the video game.
This week, Mitchell was in Shanghai celebrating the release of China’s online version of NBA 2K. The video game has more than 35 million registered users in the country—and Mitchell is on this year’s cover.
“That was a pretty special moment for me,” the Utah Jazz guard said. “To go from playing the game—even if I’m not on the cover in the states—just to be on the covers is a blessing for me. It’s a step up from last year.”
Mitchell’s trip to China for the game’s release was just the latest in a whirlwind of summer travel for the young star.
“I think my SkyMiles are pretty high,” he said with a laugh.
Mitchell was last season’s Rookie of the Year runner-up and winner of the ESPY forBest Breakthrough Athlete. So after filling up the stat sheet last season, Mitchell has spent the offseason filling up his passport with trips to Spain, Serbia, China and the Philippines.
“I decided to let myself be a kid, to be honest, and not a professional athlete,” Mitchell said. “During the season, I’m always locked in one gear, ready to play basketball, always keeping my guard up. I just let my guard down and enjoyed the vacation. I haven’t done that in a very, very long time. It was one of the more relaxing things I’ve ever done.”
In Spain, he shot a commercial with Houston Rockets star James Harden and hung out with his Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio. In Serbia, he watched future Dallas Mavericks draft pick Luka Doncic lead his team to a EuroLeague championship and got a little more insight into his well-traveled coach’s playbook.
“I saw a whole different side of basketball,” he said. “I think a lot of our plays were run that game. I texted Coach and said, ‘I see where you get your plays from and your names.’”
In Greece, China and the Philippines, he was swallowed up by hordes of fans, some of whom waited for hours just for a chance at a photo or autograph.
“I thought they’d just be excited because I’m an NBA player,” Mitchell said. “But they actually know me. They know my story. They know my stats. They know everything. It’s pretty cool to see the people I’m reaching throughout the entire world. It’s special.”
But after letting himself cut loose early in the summer, Mitchell said he’s ready to get back to business, with his injured foot healed and two-a-day practices in his near future.
“I’m back and I have to work and build on that,” he said. “Last year’s over with and we’ve got plenty more to do.”