Lot of guys named Mitchell entering my life in the last year.
My guitar teacher is named Ryan Mitchell. There’s a new piano player at Keys named Mitch. I got this guy at the Pill Mill who takes pictures and he’s a Mitchell. Hell, I even forgot that my middle name is Mitchell. But of all of the Mitchells swirling around my life, the best is this scrappy rookie on the Utah Jazz named Donovan “Spida” Mitchell.
While Ryan is a hell of a teacher and Mitch is gifted on the ivories, they don’t even hold a candle to the former Louisville guard. He’s a beast. Fully formed, gifted and incredible on and off the ball. Mitchell can play above the rim—he won the slam dunk contest—and he’s a deep ball threat—he busted Lillard’s 3-point record of 186 in a season by a rookie. He’s all that and a bag of chips. Even his little chilly chin beard and dreads in the making has attitude.
But it’s when he goes to the rim and lobs these floating underhand circus shots that defy gravity and probability that I know I’m watching a special player. Number 45 in your playbook, but number 1 in your heart, Mitchell is something else. He plays the way I would if I didn’t have two busted knees and a drinking problem. Spida is athletic in a Marvel comic way and he looks like he’s having a hell of a good time doing it.
I know I am watching him.
I’ve been a Jazz fan for 19 years. This number corresponds with the number of years I’ve lived in Utah. I was lucky enough to see Stockton to Malone, Coach Sloan getting ejected and having the Jazz Bear dump popcorn on a kid sitting next to me. My buddy Scott bought season tickets in 2004 and I ended up using most of them. I saw University of Nevada guard Kirk Synder jump into Okur’s arms after the Jazz finally beat the Spurs at home (we were like 0-26 at home against San Antonio), there was Raja Bell’s grace and Carlos Boozer’s vulnerability, and AK-47 lit up fools. Not enough gets said about what a wonderful whack job Andrei K. was for the Jazz.
Through thick and thin, I’ve loved these Utah Jazzmen. Not because they were great but because they weren’t. Our jerseys were hooky. Even our name didn’t fit the town. I’ve argued for years we should trade the Jazz moniker to New Orleans for $25 million and two first round draft picks. (I’d love for the team to be called the Utah Saints/Pioneers/Gulls/Holy Rollers.) The Delta Center was kinda dumpy and it was tough to get a beer. Before TRAX, it was a pain in the ass to get downtown. Even worse, if you weren’t drinking at Cheers 2 U or Port ‘o Call, there wasn’t a lot of options to getting liquored up before the game.
But the games were loud. Damn loud. It always took us a quarter or two before the place got rocking but when it did, it felt like you were working the flight deck on an aircraft carrier. Cowbells and thundersticks were obnoxious and there were always too many Laker jerseys wandering the halls, but the games were awesome. It always felt like the fans knew exactly when the players needed us. It didn’t matter if I was listening to Hot Rod on the radio or Bolerjack telling me to buckle up, Jazz games are the best. It’s the one place you’ll find drunken fans and Mormons screaming for a common cause.
But it wasn’t all peaches and cream—that’s what makes the Utah Jazz our team. I was there when Vince Carter silenced us with a dagger 3 at the end of the game, but I was also there on that rare Sunday afternoon game when D Will cut Kobe’s throat in overtime during the playoffs. The lows are lower than you can imagine but the highs are something that carries you through the summer. Plus, there’s nothing better than wiping that smug look off of a Laker fan’s face. It’s disgusting to see any LA fan here in Salt Lake City.
My favorite Jazz moments happened in my living room. For years, my wife had to wake up at 5 in the morning, so I’d watch with the volume low and stifling every emotion I have throughout the game. I mostly muttered under my breath something to the effect of “how F-ing bad can these team get?!?” but there’s been some glorious silent moments. None better than tackling my dog Shelly after Sundiata Gaines hit the game winner against LeBron.
I did the same after Hayward told James to go back to Cleveland. I don’t miss Gordon but I do wish him well for that amazing moment.
My beef with the Jazz is that I always know what’s going to happen with them. I know at tipoff if they’re going to win, lose or break my heart. They play with such predictability that I wish I could lay money on them. The problem is I don’t know what is going to happen until the book closes. That was the case on Sunday.
Even though we won the tipoff, I knew that this was going to be a slog of a game with the cursed Thunder winning the first game of the first round of the 2018 playoffs. There were highlights—Rubio with the steal and feeding Mitchell with a behind the back pass. But there were mostly lowlights. The Jazz play the way that I would want a high school team to play: minimum six passes, find the open man and make the shot. The problem with this is the eponymous named Jazz don’t improvise. They feel rigid. It works great on defense but I hate watching their half court play. Put the ball in Rubio’s hand, let him get the ball to Ingles on the corner or Rudy on the block or let Spida be Spida.
If I had a moment with Coach Snyder I’d tell him to let the Jazz run.
Run, Jazz, run!
If we want to survive this first round, we need to make a major adjustment and wear down these OKC bums. They have a Big 3 but so do we. And frankly, our 4, 5 to the end of the bench can beat the Thunder. If I was Snyder, I’d cry havoc and unleash the hounds of war. If you’re name ain’t Joe, you ain’t shooting a 3. I’d let Rudy carry a jug of Burgundy and let him drink deeply during TV timeouts. Jae Crowder should try and foul out in the first quarter throwing crescent kicks into Melo. Royce O’Neale should be free to attack any loose ball and Jonas Jerebko should give OKC’s Adams a throat punch just because Adams looks like he fell into a pit filled with running tattoo needles.
Truth: PG and Westbrook are good but they’re beatable. They have 34 loses to prove it. Yeah, so do we, but we earned our loses. The Thunder were handed theirs.
Is it time to panic? Not yet. I think we can even things up on Wednesday. I have a good feeling about us getting a much need W. It’s because for every Vinsanity there’s a Gaines. We’re scrappy, tough and hell, we weren’t even supposed to be here. The national media think the Jazz play just outside of Timbuktu and haven’t given us an ounce of respect. Why should be take anything for granted? Every game since Rudy’s return has been a gift and there’s never been a better time to be a Jazz fan. Even after we get screwed with Mitchell’s rookie of the year, or Coach Snyder gets jobbed for coach of the year or when Rudy gets second for defensive player of the year, at the end of the day, we’ll still be here.
Hell, worst case scenario is we get to keep living in Salt Lake City and those pesky Thunder still have to stay in Oklahoma City. I’ve only driven through Oklahoma and trust me, we have it a ton better back here in the Beehive State. The Jazz binds this community together and for better or worse, I’d put these guy against anybody. It ain’t going to be easy, but it never is.
Prediction: Jazz in 6. We’ll win on Wednesday and have our hearts broken on Saturday. This will work great because we’ll advance after a Game 6 win at home. Book it. And try to be half as good to your mother as Mitchell is to his. Ask Kyle Goon. He wrote it.
Ben Raskin is a bartender who writes or a writer who occasionally bartends. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. He would look ridiculous in a city edition Jazz jersey.