It was the first game of summer league. I had just taken my seat at Huntsman Arena where the Utah Jazz would play their first summer league game against the San Antonio Spurs. Their was a nervous energy in the arena. It was July 3rd, the day before Gordon Hayward’s decision. On the car ride from Boise, Idaho to Salt Lake City, Utah, I had been nervously following any update from Utah’s meeting with Gordon Hayward.
While every Jazz fan in the building was there to watch the future of the Utah Jazz take the court, most had their eyes glued to their phones while the present of the Utah Jazz was hanging in the balance. But soon, that attention would be stolen. For an hour and a half all the Gordon Hayward drama would soon evaporate for a precious hour and a half due to the play of one youngster: Donovan Mitchell.
Prior to being drafted by the Utah Jazz, he had gained a cult following among Jazz fans due to his workout. It wasn’t some high flying athleticism at the workout that he became known for, no, not at all. It was his compliments about Utah, the basketball history, and the beautiful scenery. It was like the basketball gods had custom created a demigod just for Utah. Here was some lottery pick who seemed to championing and cheerleading his case to land in Utah.
Soon after, the Denver Nuggets would inexplicably come a calling and offer the Jazz the chance to draft the wunderkind. All that was asked was Trey Lyles and the Jazz’s late 1st rounder, the Jazz got their man. It seems as though Denver is stealthily building Utah into a contender just through draft day trades. Now, sitting in my seat at Huntsman, I was going to see what the kid who called himself @spidadmitchell on Twitter could do.
I still remember the moment where Donovan Mitchell had stolen my Jazz fan heart. I was glancing around the arena in awe that so many people were glued to their phones at an event happening in San Diego (Utah Jazz’s pitch meeting to Hayward) when that tense air was shattered by a crowd full of people yelling “ohhhh!” and “ah!!” I quickly turned around to the floor to catch Donovan Mitchell finishing a dunk. I leaned over to my father who has been a Jazz fan and ABA Utah Stars fan since the beginning. Sensing that I had missed what just happened he said excitingly, “He just windmilled a dunk in the layup line!”
The game hadn’t even started yet and Donovan Mitchell had the attention of every person in the arena. The crowd waiting in anticipation for the next time Mitchell would get the ball in the layup line: reverse dunk, alley-oop, windmill, through the legs. He was putting on a dunk contest audition tape. I found myself smiling ear to ear. For the first time in about a month I wasn’t thinking about Gordon Hayward’s impending free agency. I was enjoying basketball again.
But it wasn’t just the dunks that drew the crowd to him, it was his energy. He looked like a kid at Christmas; there he was grinning ear to ear. He loved this. He was what every Jazz fan needed at the Summer League game. Soon every fan in that building would be let down by the face of their franchise leaving them for Boston. They would hit rock bottom and wonder if the Jazz had to start the arduous and long rebuilding process.
But that night? It was all about Donovan Mitchell.
Donovan Mitchell scored 23 points and dished out 5 assists. He put up highlight reel dunks, steals, and moves. Every person leaving the arena that day couldn’t stop talking about Donovan Mitchell.
“The Jazz got something special.”
“Better than Gordon as a rookie.”
“Never saw DWill do that until his 2nd season.”
“He reminds me of the Golden Griff.”
Throughout the rest of summer league Donovan Mitchell would dominate. He didn’t look like a late lottery pick; he looked like a top 3 pick. With every passing Summer League game, Donovan Mitchell made the pain of Hayward’s exit hurt less and less. That’s the amazing thing about the one we’d soon refer to as the Spida-man. In a way, he was just like Spida-man.
Spider-man was born in Queens, NY. Spida-man was born in Elmsford, NY. They’re both athletic, altruistic young men who are eternal optimists. He’s funny, known to make a good quip, and has been thrown into a terrible situation that to anyone else would be way above their head, but he succeeded. They both have secret identities. One is Peter Parker and Donovan Mitchell’s secret identity is playing in a small market that easily gets overlooked. Donovan, like Peter Parker, has a super power. Donovan Mitchell didn’t realize he had such a large wingspan until the combine and remarked he didn’t start capitalizing on that until after the combine. Mitchell doesn’t back down against bullies as evidenced by his retaliation toward Joel Embiid after being taunted. Just like Spider-man took on the responsibility of protecting New York as a youngster, Mitchell was being asked to take on a responsibility at an age where it normally would be unfair to expect an NBA player to shoulder such a task: leading the Utah Jazz to the playoffs.
And ... crazy enough ... he’s doing it and more.
So far this season, Donovan Mitchell is the best rookie in Utah Jazz history since Darrell Griffith, another fellow Louisville alum. No Jazz rookie had more 20 point games than Donovan Mitchell at this point than Darrell Griffith aka Dr. Dunkenstein. In his rookie year, Griffith averaged 20.6 points per game. So far in November, Mitchell is averaging 17.8 point per game, nevermind that Donovan is two years younger (20) than Griffith was in his rookie year (22).
Donovan Mitchell has gone into LA in a game against the Lonzo Ball-led Lakers and looked like a Top 3 Lottery Pick. Donovan Mitchell has put Giannis Antetokounmpo in the spin cycle. When he’s on the court with Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors, the Utah Jazz play like a 60 win team. He has filled in at point guard and has taken control of the starting shooting guard position, and it’s only a quarter of the way through the regular season.
Everything he does is amazing. It’s amazing that he learns so quickly. It’s amazing that he has excellent court vision as a shooting guard. It’s amazing that he can guard 3 positions. It’s amazing that there are times he looks flat out Dwyane Wade-esque. It’s amazing that the first night he filled in at point guard he almost had a triple double. It’s amazing that he posterized Kuzma and Ball in Los Angeles. It’s amazing that he has Steph Curry and Damian Lillard range when shooting behind the screen on threes. It’s amazing that we can put players in a spin cycle when coming off a pick and roll. It’s amazing that he could be the best player on a playoff team as a rookie on a team that also has Rudy Gobert.
He truly is the Amazing Spida-man.