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Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell winning over fans with breakout rookie season

From NBA media reports

Plenty of folks around the NBA wished LeBron James a happy 33rd birthday but one person in particular didn’t want him to have an additional reason to celebrate it Saturday.

That would be Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz rookie who idolized LeBron and yet also wanted to beat him. And so, down the stretch of an unexpectedly exciting Jazz-Cavs game, Mitchell outplayed the King and helped the Jazz squeeze out a 104-101 win.

It’s been that kind of season, for the most part, for Mitchell, and it has come right on time for the Jazz. Still wounded over the summertime departure of Gordon Hayward, the Jazz perhaps found their next star in Mitchell, and if so, it would follow a familiar pattern for the Jazz in the post-Malone/Stockton era.

They drafted Deron Williams and he became a franchise-type player, then was traded. They drafted Hayward and he, too, became a franchise rock before he left through free agency.

Now it’s Mitchell, and the good news is he’ll be under contract for at least two more seasons. The even better news: Utah has already fallen all over him. The day before the Cavs game, a line of fans stretching an estimated quarter-mile waited at a local mall to see Mitchell. Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News was there:

Two hours before his arrival, Stance’s executive vice president of business development Clarke Miyasaki texted Mitchell to tell him at least 130 people were in line waiting. He couldn’t believe it. The Stance store opened in Murray about seven months ago, so they brought Mitchell in as a thank you to the area for all of the sales.

“The people in Salt Lake have supported the brand so well that we kind of wanted to do a giveback,” Miyasaki said. “He’s got it. I think he was what Salt Lake needed with (Gordon) Hayward leaving and it’s just the perfect storm for him to kind of come over and take over the town.”

Mitchell’s mother, Nicole, and younger sister, Jordan, were blown away by the response. Even Jordan, a sophomore in high school, was asked to sign an autograph on a basketball.

“Just knowing him, I think it’s super crazy,” Jordan said. “Like the reactions when people see him. He’s a good role model.”

For the Mitchell family, it’s still a dream come true. Just last year, they were enjoying him in Louisville with the NBA being the furthest thing from their minds. Nicole’s been traveling and accompanying her son for a couple weeks now and still cherishes these memories.

“It’s hard to explain because he’s still my baby,” said Nicole, a preschool teacher in Connecticut.

“He’s still Donovan that I yell at every once and a while, but he’s a real good kid,” she said, laughing. “It’s pretty overwhelming but he’s happy and this is what he’s dreamed for.”

Mitchell finished with 29 points (matching LeBron) with six assists and four rebounds and in a sign of respect, his teammates gave him first-option status late in the game. That shows how much confidence the entire organization has in Mitchell, who has fought through the expected up-and-downs this season to gain more confidence.

There are a few rookies flashing a similar look: Ben Simmons, Kyle Kuzma, Jayson Tatum. It should be a thrilling race for Rookie of the Year honors.