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AUSTIN FACER: Mitchell, Jazz making fans proud with scholarship contributions

SALT LAKE CITY — I have a love-hate relationship with Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell’s postgame interviews in the 2020-21 season.

Sometimes after a loss — granted, there haven’t been many of them this season — I think Mitchell puts his foot in his mouth. For example, after the Jazz’s 112-100 loss to the New York Knicks on Jan. 6, he said “We have a tendency as a fanbase to go crazy over a poor start. We’ve had stretches like this in my four years . . . . We just got to do the work…We’re going to do this; we’re going to be fine. But we can’t let teams come in and continue to do this to us.”

That’s an objectively bad response to the question of why the team started the season 4-4 and had a pair of back-to-back losses to the Brooklyn Nets the night before (who played without Kevin Durant and hadn’t yet acquired James Harden) and the perennially poor Knicks.

https://twitter.com/austinfacer/status/1347044886734725125

I thought that it was pretty lame of Mitchell to resent the high expectations that the fanbase always puts on the Jazz to start the season. It bothered me as a Jazz fan and a has-been media member. But to be fair to Mitchell — and me — he made that quote on Jan. 6, a day that will forever live in infamy due to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building. I was pissed off and disgusted with a ton of people that day. My heightened sense of frustration with the world at large probably had a lot to do with my reception to what he said. I acknowledged that I blew it out of proportion later on.

https://twitter.com/austinfacer/status/1347068849208758278

Still, I think it was a bad quote.

However, for every time he has irked me with his remarks, Mitchell has completely redeemed himself with a hundred or more thoughtful, insightful and kind statements. The latest and biggest example of such a comment came after Utah’s victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.

Before we get to that though, let me catch you up to speed in case you haven’t been following the Jazz this season. The team’s ownership was sold by the Miller family to Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith (yes, the Millers no longer are the majority owners of the team, crazy huh?). Upon the sale of the team, Smith stated that he had big plans to use the Jazz’s platform for good. He’s wasted no time doing so. Earlier this month, Smith announced on ESPN’s The Woj Podcast that for every Jazz win, the franchise would be awarding a full, four-year scholarship to an underserved youngster, which is absolutely stunning. According to a quick Google search, the Jazz stand alone as the only professional sports franchise that offers such a contribution.

Does that add a little extra incentive to win to Mitchell and his squad?

In short: yes, and Mitchell put it beautifully in his remarks with the media after Tuesday’s win.

Listen to the audio (big thanks to Lundy for pulling this for me):

It was pretty humbling to hear how much it means to Mitchell to play well and change someone’s life for the better. It made me feel dumb for having ragged on his comments earlier in the month to my massive Twitter following of 300 people (some of them aren’t blood relatives, okay?). Mitchell is right about the program that Ryan Smith has implemented, it’s bigger than basketball.

So far this season, the Jazz are 10-4. Add in their three preseason victories and the team has already given 13 young people a chance at a significantly better future. That’s incredible. Stuff like that really puts things in perspective and adds a new dimension to the fun of cheering on the Jazz and covering the team’s success.

Knowing that his heart is in the right place — as it seems to always be — when it comes to winning games and therefore, providing a college scholarship to an underprivileged kid, I can forgive Mitchell for a misstep earlier this month. He’s been dominant over the last stretch, shooting at a blistering pace and dropping some sick dimes along the way.

Plus, the Jazz haven’t lost a game since. Like Bill Murray’s character said in Caddyshack, they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.

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