Last season, Utah Jazz rookie, Donovan Mitchell, took the league by storm with his mesmerizing dunks and innate scoring ability. He scorched opposing teams with a scoring average of 20.5 — leading all rookies — and helped propel the Jazz to the second round of the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
Though they were ousted by James Harden and the Houston Rockets, Mitchell received a bevy of gems from one of the game’s leading savants, Kobe Bryant. “It was in the middle of the playoff series and I finally mustered up the courage to ask him a bunch of questions about… his process from year one to year two, his expectations, what he saw in me and whatnot. We got to talking and talked a bunch of times [since] but that first time was very nerve-racking,” Mitchell tells Billboard.
Not only did Mitchell gain a ton of knowledge from the former Lakers virtuoso, he also joined forces with his basketball idol. Today, exclusively on Billboard, Mitchell announces his partnership with BodyArmor, a sports drink designed to help replenish the body of crucial vitamins and electrolytes.
“I’m a guy who’s all for sugar with McDonald’s, with Papa Johns, Waffle House, that was me coming up in the league,” says Mitchell. “Fortunately, I realized how important it was for me to take care of myself in this long season so I think for me, partnering with BodyArmor wasn’t just about the partnership, it was about taking care of myself and taking care of my body as well.”
After a 36 point explosion against the Trail Blazers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mitchell hopes to keep his hunger intact while pushing the Jazz to a second straight playoff berth. This year, he’s averaging a whopping 22 points per game and has posted an average of over 30 points in his last 10 games.
Billboard spoke to the dynamic guard about his new partnership with BodyArmor, his relationship with Kobe Bryant, why he chose not to defend his slam dunk title this year, having Dave East‘s music play at the Jazz’s arena during home games and his favorite Drake song from Scorpion. Check it out below.
I wanna congratulate you on your collaboration with BodyArmor. Can you talk to me about what made you decide to join the team in the first place?
My biggest transition from years one to two was taking care of my body. I had the pleasure of working out with James Harden this summer and one of the things he talked about was taking care of his body in every little way possible, anyway that he could. Obviously, we talked about BodyArmor and I think that having a better sports drink that doesn’t have any artificial ingredients I think allows you to be able to better yourself and be healthier. I’m a guy who’s all for sugar with McDonald’s, with Papa Johns, Waffle House, that was me coming up in the league.
Fortunately, I realized how important it was for me to take care of myself in this long season so I think for me, partnering with Body Armor wasn’t just about the partnership, it was about taking care of myself and taking care of my body as well.
So when’s the last time you had Waffle House?
Man, probably sophomore year of college [laughs].
That’s rough. Obviously, when you think BodyArmor, you think of James Harden [or] Kobe, who was someone who gave you advice last year during your playoff matchup with Houston. After watching the Detail episode, I wanted to know if you continue to reach out to him for advice on and off the court?
After I saw the Detail episode, I was in shock, to be honest with you. I was too scared to ask him.
Why was that? Was it more so just him going in depth?
It’s Kobe Bryant [laughs]! It’s one of those things where it’s like, “It’s Kobe.” I was just like, “Oh, shoot. He’s talking to me.” It’s just one of those things where it’s like “Oh, this is crazy.” It was in the middle of the playoff series and I finally mustered up the courage to ask him a bunch of questions about you know, just his process from year one to year two, his expectations, what he saw in me and what not. We got to talking and talked a bunch of times [since] but that first time was very nerve-racking.
Wow. What would you say is the biggest gem you got from him?
One thing I learned is where I’m catching the ball and where I’m making my move. You make your move at half court, it takes a lot longer to get to the rim. The shifts are a lot easier when your 30-40 feet away from the rim as opposed to being 15 to 16 away from the rim.
You had a great year last year with you guys making it to the second round. With the level of experience you gained as a rookie, how has that helped your approach coming into your sophomore season?
I think for me, I understand what it takes. Obviously, I don’t know all of what it takes but I understand what it takes to at least make it. How hard and taxing it was on the body and understanding [the importance of taking] care of myself. That’s where it starts. Maybe not to all those basketball games, or maybe not staying up later just to play Xbox. Understanding what it takes to get the little things and in every game, you can’t really look past any team at all.
You were a little cold at the start of the season, but in your last 10 games, you’ve averaged over 30 points per game. What changed during this 10-game stretch where you had this crazy scoring binge?
I think when the new year came, I decided to say, “Look, there’s a point in time where you can listen to all the doubters, you can doubt yourself, but for me, I just need to push through. I think with the help of my teammates, my coaches, and my family, it was like, ‘This moment can make you or break you, right here.'” I wouldn’t be in this position unless I was capable enough of doing it. I just had to find it in my own way.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. It was tough. [I thought] “Maybe I am a one-hit wonder.” It’s those times where it crosses your mind. I just thank God for the strength and courage and the mental energy to push because eventually, you’re going to push through that wall and eventually, you’re going to continue to get better. I wouldn’t say I’m completely there. I know I can get better in many different ways, but I think I’m on the right track.
You broke a lot of hearts when you said you won’t be defending your slam dunk title at this year’s All-Star festivities. How tough was it to make that decision because I’m sure you want to keep the momentum that you have going right now for the second half of the season?
That was a hard decision for me because that’s my favorite part of the weekend. I remembered last year how tired I was physically and mentally coming into and leaving All-Star weekend and I just realized I needed time away. That’s the one thing at my age, a lot of kids, or whatever you want to call guys who are 22, I think a lot of us would always want to do it, would love to do it, but I’m trying to find ways to better myself and being more mature.
Whether it’s not doing the dunk contest because I need to be the best person or player I can for my teammates I think I owe my teammates that: to be the best player I can be, to be there mentally and physically, to not be dead-tired for three games because we’re not in the position where that can happen. I think that’s where that decision stems from as hard and devastating as it was.
You’re a big drummer, so I’ll pose this hypothetical: If you could play a live set, with any rapper during his/her tour, which rapper would you choose and why?
That is a good question. Dang. J.Cole is up there just because I saw him live and I think drumming works with the way he performs live. I haven’t see Drake or Future perform live so I couldn’t really tell you that. But I would say, J. Cole, Future, Fab [Fabolous] — he’s one of my favorite rappers of all-time — and definitely JAY-Z.
That would be a pretty great situation with you and Hov, doing some Black Album cuts or something.
Yeah, but I loved American Gangster. That song “Pray” knocks.
I’ll pose you another hypothetical: If you could only warm up to the catalog of three artists for rest of your career, which would you choose and why?
Future, Drake and probably Dave East.
What is it about Dave that put him in that Top 3? It’s not every day I hear ball players throwing Dave East in there.
For me, it started with Paranoia. I really listened to Dave East back in the day. ‘Back in the day’ [laughs] a few years ago, but I know he had Kairi Chanel, but Paranoia really got me locked into him as far as pre-game, him and Jeezy on that first song [“Paranoia”]. Then after that he came out with Karma, Karma 2. The song “Legendary” started off, [and] he just came out with some fire songs, so I use them in the game rotation every game day.
You’re surprising me with your music taste. I didn’t think it was trash but you’re definitely up there with the athletes I’ve spoken to. I gotta give you credit with that.
Thank you. I’m low-key with my music choices, but I even got them to play Dave East in the arena so I can hear it out loud.
I know you were a fan of Drake’s Scorpion album last year and you mentioned how you wanted to use lyrics as Insta captions, so I’m curious what were some of your favorite lyrics from the album?
I definitely used a bunch of those for my captions. It’s crazy, once I heard “Survival,” I was in L.A. when I heard it for the first time, but I knew people were going to be on it for a very, very, very long time. Like “Nonstop,” I’m probably the only person that thinks this, but “Nonstop” will go down as one of his top songs ever. It’s the beat and what he’s saying to me. If I had to listen to “Nonstop” all day I’m cool with that.
If you could pick one album to serve as the soundtrack to your life, which project would that be and why?
I’m gonna go through my phone. It would definitely be a Fab album for sure.
I’m thinking Street Dreams.
I’m gonna go with one of the Summertime Shootouts because everyone always picks Soul Tape. He released both Summertime Shootouts on my birthday, two years in a row. I would say Summertime Shootout 1 and 2.
It’s official. You definitely surpassed my expectations of with your music knowledge.
Don’t get me wrong, I like my mumble rap.
I saw you had a tough choice between 21 Savage and A Boogie the day they both came out.
I can’t believe I forgot my man A Boogie. I’m gonna throw A Boogie’s album up there as a soundtrack to my life.