Q&A: Donovan Mitchell on Teacher Initiative, Jazz, and Upping His Game

Donovan Mitchell is a two-time NBA All-Star who led the Utah Jazz to a league-best 52-20 regular-season record and the 2021 Western Conference semifinals. The 25-year-old guard averaged 26.4 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.4 rebounds during the 2020-21 season.

Along with his mother, Nicole, a preschool teacher for many years, Mitchell has teamed up with Clorox to celebrate teachers through the brand’s $1 million donation to DonorsChoose, which will help educators clear their supply wish lists for classrooms. On average, teachers spend $500 out of their own pockets for students’ school supplies. 

Mitchell sat down with Sports Section to discuss why helping teachers and giving back to the community is so important to him, the Jazz’s season, what’s next for him, and more.

How did your mother’s influence as a teacher inspire you to team with Clorox to help educators recoup some of the money they spend on school supplies?

It’s just about being able to pay homage and continue to show our appreciation to teachers who are the unsung heroes of the world. They’re underappreciated, underrated, and underpaid. 

I’m using the platform that I have — and obviously Clorox has as well — to be able to shine a light on what’s needed for the people who are teaching our youth.

Why is it so important for you to give back to the community?

I truly give back to what I believe in. I was that kid back in school who needed help with certain activities and school lessons. I wasn’t the greatest student, but I got better as I got older through help and through tutoring.

The biggest thing you can give someone is your time. It’s obviously great to give monetary donations and different things, but being able to give someone your time — and when you’re speaking on behalf of teachers — the result is helping kids. 

My biggest push is helping students and young children continue to be their best selves and grow. It starts with the people who are teaching them. Who are they learning from? Who are their mentors? It’s those teachers who continue to pay out of pocket for supplies and continue to find ways to be the best teachers they can be in each school, 

What we’re doing with Clorox is to help take that burden from teachers and make it easier for them.

The Jazz had a great season, but in the end you didn’t get a ring. How do you evaluate the season?

The job is not finished. The goal is the championship, and as great as we played, we didn’t win. It’s great to appreciate the small victories, but at the end of the day, the goal is to be the last team standing.

So for us, it’s: How do we find a way to get there? We did a great job of it in the regular season, so how do we repeat that? Then also, how do we repeat what we did in the first round, but adjust to how we did in the second round? It’s continuing to build upon that and get to the finals and be able to win.

How do you reach another level to your individual game?

There’s definitely another level I can get to. It’s to continue to work, for starters, continue to put the work in.

But it’s also about winning. Winning allows you to be on that stage, on that platform and to be in those conversations. Obviously, MVP is a goal, All-NBA is a goal, All-Star is a goal, but you don’t get any of those accolades if you don’t win.

It’s easy to be the best player on the team, but if you’re not winning, what are you doing?

For me, that’s really where my mind has been from the jump.

Team success ultimately leads to individual success, and that’s pretty much where I pride myself — to continue to be the best leader on the team and continue to push us as a group to get to that next level. As I do it myself, we will do it as a team, and vice-versa. So it’s just being able to take that next leap and get to the conference finals, get to the Finals, continue to play at our best, and play high-level basketball each year.

What do you like to do in the offseason?

I just picked up golf about a year ago. Outside of that, I’m actually going to go back to school at Louisville and finish my degree, but I’m on the golf course as much as I can be.

Chris Kuc is a sportswriter who covered a myriad of sports during his career with the Chicago Tribune, The Athletic, and the Chicago Blackhawks before joining Sports Section. You can reach out to Chris at Chris.Kuc@thesportssection.com or on Twitter: @ChrisKuc.