The NBA is soaring in popularity right now. It seems to be making all of the right moves with regards to social issues like gender, social injustice, and race. The NBA has taken the lead among professional leagues with regard to acceptance and progress in areas the NFL and MLB have struggled. Lebron James, the NBA’s best player over the last decade has taken an active role in voicing his opinions about social issues, has been a sterling example of giving back to the community, and doing something about issues rather than just talking about them. So what does this have to do with Donovan Mitchell?
Well, Lebron James can’t go on forever and when he goes, the NBA will need a new face. The NBA needs Donovan Mitchell to develop into the superstar that Jazz fans hope that he can be. In his short time in the league, Mitchell has earned the respect of Lebron James, Chris Paul, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Gregg Popovich, and a slew of other superstars. His play on the floor has been brilliant and to say his rookie-year highlight film is impressive is an understatement. Off the court, Mitchell has been even more impressive. He says and does all the right things. He has charisma, he interacts with fans in positive ways, he keeps his nose clean, and finds himself in all of the right places. He gives back, recently showing up to a local high school with backpacks for the students and encouraging them to set high academic goals. He sticks up for Utah on Twitter and frowns upon the incivility and name calling of the President without getting into the political weeds. Donovan Mitchell has charisma and he is the breath of fresh air the NBA needs to continue its upward accent as the most popular sports league in America.
The NBA needs a thoughtful, charismatic voice that can speak the truth without incurring the wrath of political haters or turning off fans. Mitchell’s humility and fun personality allow him to say what needs to be said without offending anyone. Without Mitchell, who would be the voice of the NBA after Lebron retires? Russell Westbrook? Kevin Durant? Joel Embiid? I’m telling you, the NBA needs Donovan Mitchell’s charisma, and it needs Mitchell to be the best player in the NBA.
In contrast, the NBA does not need a Colin Kaepernick. I don’t mean that in any way disrespectfully to Kaepernick or the cause he is drawing attention to, rather I wish only to point out the issues the NFL is now grappling with due to manner in which he has gone about it. While most NFL fans would agree that white police officers shooting unarmed African-American suspects is wrong, Kaepernick has started the NFL’s version of World War III because he chose to draw attention to that issue by kneeling during the National Anthem. Such an approach has opened him up to misunderstandings and allegations of disrespecting the flag, the troops, and the country. Sponsors have been caught up in the scandals, TV ratings have dropped, and the NFL, once America’s juggernaut league, now looks fragile. One could argue that what Kaepernick has done is good for America, but there is no question, it has been bad for the NFL.
Mitchell, on the other hand, is a PR Director’s dream. He has the charisma that he can draw attention to issues in the world without upsetting fans. He is so positive and says things with such tact and humility, it’s hard not to agree with whatever he says. The sports world is never going to be a perfect place; there will always be tough issues to wade through. In the days of social media, athletes now have a platform to weigh-in on a variety of issues. Some fans don’t want athletes and entertainers bringing politics into their entertainment world, where they escape those weightier subjects. Some fans want their entertainment to “just shut up and dribble.” After all, they are the ones paying the salaries of these entertainers. On the other hand, some athletes have much to offer and they should be applauded for using their platform to bring a voice to those who don’t have one. If an athlete has an opinion, why should they not be able to voice it? Striking the right balance can be a tricky proposition. As an NBA fan, I’m just grateful to have a charismatic and thoughtful rising star like Donovan Mitchell that can navigate those tricky waters without damaging the NBA the way that less tactful athletes have damaged the NFL.