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Donovan Mitchell is using his new shoe to change students’ lives

The Utah Jazz star talks about ‘A Shoe For Change’ and the upcoming NBA season

Donovan Mitchell hopes his new basketball sneaker will not only help athletes score buckets, but also make an impact in the lives of students at his beloved University of Louisville.

The former Cardinals star has teamed up with Adidas to support current and future Black students at Louisville by donating up to $200,000 of the sales of his “D.O.N. Issue #2 x Louisville” sneaker (nicknamed “A Shoe for Change”) to fund several academic initiatives and scholarships.

“I’m sure we’ve all had moments where things changed our lives and had an everlasting impact. For me, I just want to give, especially people of color, an opportunity to have that everlasting impact and change,” Mitchell told The Undefeated in a phone interview on Wednesday. “You never know whose idea is going to create what or whose idea is going to be a catalyst for this or that.”

The initiatives include the Woodford R. Porter Scholarship Program, the Muhammad Ali Scholars Program, the HSC Health and Social Justice Scholars program and an expanded emergency fund to help increase retention rates of students.

Mitchell, who was vocal throughout the NBA’s restart in the bubble about social justice issues, will debut the new colorway in his preseason game on Thursday night against the LA Clippers. The University of Louisville’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will wear the limited-edition colorway in upcoming games.

Mitchell talked with The Undefeated about his latest effort with Adidas, the Jazz’s hopes this season, and continuing the social justice movement in the NBA.


What does it mean to you to have an impact on the lives of students?

I am just trying to find ways to give back in any way I can. With everything we’ve been doing in the bubble fighting for social change and social justice, fighting for equal education and equal opportunities in all aspects of life for our people, this is just another avenue to do just that. I’ve partnered with Adidas and done a bunch of different things. We’ve helped Jacob Blake’s kids, putting money into their school funds. This is another thing we are doing together. And I’m really honored to be doing this. …

I know a bunch of kids who can’t necessarily afford to go to school that get into school. It’s a real problem to get into college. There are kids, especially in Louisville, that I know that may be able to get into school but can’t necessarily afford to go. So, they don’t end up going. And that’s not just the case at Louisville, that’s everywhere. But being that I went to school there and Louisville is like a second home to me, I just wanted to give back and be able to allow kids to go to college to pursue their dreams.

Is your mother still pushing for you to get your degree from Louisville?

110%. It doesn’t matter how much money you make. It doesn’t matter how long you play in the NBA. It doesn’t matter who I am or who I may become. I promised her that and that is something I’m still sticking to and working on doing. I am keeping that promise to her to finish and get my degree and education. Once I am done with playing, I want to be an analyst on ESPN, be on the TNT crew or do color commentary or something along those lines to keep me around sports.

Are you taking classes online?

I haven’t started that yet. This was actually the offseason to do it. The pre-bubble was my timeline to do it. Things kind of got hectic really quick. But after this season I am going to definitely start taking those classes and get back to it.

Jamal Murray (left) of the Denver Nuggets talks to Donovan Mitchell (right) of the Utah Jazz after round one, Game Seven of the NBA playoffs on Sept. 1 at the AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Why should NBA followers believe in the Jazz this season?

A lot of it is predicated on what we do as individuals coming back. Last season, we had moments where we were really, really good and moments where we were really, really bad. That can’t happen. You look at teams that have won throughout the years, they don’t tend to fluctuate. You look at Toronto two years ago. Golden State during their run. The Los Angeles Lakers last season. Miami before that. Teams don’t tend to fluctuate. We have to be able to be consistent throughout the season. We have to be able to put a stamp on our defense, because offensively we know we can be really, really solid.

We have a lot of weapons. For us, it’s how do we hone it in on the defensive end, not make mistakes and stay locked in. We were at a point where we were up 3-1 and the little details weren’t as important. That is where we lost the lead and the series. The biggest eye-opener for us is we need to be on point every minute, every second of every game. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 20-game winning streak or 20-game losing streak. The emphasis and attention to detail need to be the same.

What did you do to get better individually during the offseason?

Just building on what I was doing in the bubble in terms of slowing the game down and patience. Making the right reads. It’s one thing to score and be that scorer. It’s another thing to be the guy that creates that advantage. I understand that there are certain shots I am going to have to take and certain reads that I am going to have to be able to make. There are no more days where guys are going under screens. There are no more days where guys aren’t getting help [defensively] when I get by them. There are going to be two or three guys in front of me.

But it is going to be on me to find Rudy [Gobert] on the lob or Bojan [Bogdanovic] or Mike [Conley] or Royce [O’Neale] or Joe [Ingles] or whoever is in the corner or the wing. Not even driving to score. Driving to create that advantage for our team and be able to get off the ball. But also be able to take those shots in those moments and be able to do what I was doing in the bubble consistently.

What is the key for you and Gobert having success as a duo this season?

We saw what we can be in the bubble and we’re just going to go out there and continue to find ways to compete. The biggest thing for both of us is being able to defend. He has done it at a high level as long as he’s been here. We all have to continue to help him and not rely on him being back there. Containment. Keeping our guys in front of us. Attention to detail. Not getting backdoored. The little things that disrupt the defensive end and now we’re scrambling. Rudy may get two fouls and now he is out of the game.

For us, just being able to help him out on the defensive end, and he does what he does on the offensive end. He rolls and creates an advantage of us and continue to be the lob threat.

Donovan Mitchell wearing the “D.O.N. Issue #2 x Louisville” Adidas sneaker.

Adidas

After being outspoken about social injustice in the bubble, I recall you saying your mom was worried about how people would react toward you once you left the bubble. Were there any issues?

Everything has been positive. There are always going to be people that don’t agree with you. She is looking at it from a mother’s perspective looking after her son. There have been moments where you get those slick remarks. It’s not anything that deters me or anyone. I’m sure I am not the only one who has had this. … I am positive that I am not the only one that this has happened to, because people aren’t necessarily happy with change. There are people who have that privilege and want to continue to keep that privilege.

When you put the pressure on trying to change that and create equal opportunity, it threatens people. That is not going to deter me from what I am doing and what the guys across the league are trying to get accomplished for our people. We deserve the right to be in the same rooms, same areas and conversations as everyone else. This is something that keeps us moving forward.

How do you reflect back on the social justice movement in the bubble and how do you incorporate that into this season?

Everyone has been saying to not let it die down. We’ve all said we’ve had these things come up before, we have a few good months and then it dies down. Us as a league, in this league, and as a people in this country and in this world, we have done a great job of continuing to fight, continuing to push for what is right. I think the bubble was a major moment for the world to watch what we did and not letting our message die down, whether it’s branding on your clothes, it’s what you wear, it’s what you put in financially, put into these communities. What we ask, we ask of our league, our governors and our counterparts in other sports as well. We ask of our fans.

Continuing to keep the message alive. That is where it starts. It’s easy to tweet. For myself, being able to put money towards certain communities, I know a lot of guys have done that. Jrue Holiday, Patty Mills, LeBron [James], CP [Chris Paul] have done it. There have been so many guys who have done a great job. And us as a league, we’re the focal point. Everyone looks at us and what we do, and follows us. We’re the leaders of social justice with the push we are making this year. I’m really happy how things have been going with us continuing to show support, continuing to have these uncomfortable conversations and uncomfortable moments, because that is what is required for change.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.