AN EXCLUSIVE W/ DONOVAN MITCHELL

In between Brian Windhorst (rightfully) pointing fingers in the air and Donovan Mitchell becoming the latest star on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster, BSTN sat down with the sixth-year Guard for one of his very few interviews of the summer. We chatted about everything from his latest signature shoe to investing time and money as well as an untold story from the Mets’ clubhouse.

On debuting the D.O.N. Issue #4 in last year’s Playoffs:

I had that shoe for a little while before [debuting it in last year’s Playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks] just to make sure everything was how I wanted it to be. Every year, we preview my shoe in the Playoffs to give the people a preview of what’s to come. You’re on TV every game, so you get a lot of exposure that way. You’re obviously excited for the Playoffs but you’re also excited for what you have on your feet. Usually, we drop the shoe in the summer but this year it will come out in October, right when the season starts. So, I’m excited for that.

On what he’s looking forward to about the Issue #4 beyond the shoe being the lightest of the series to date:

The light weight is something that you notice right away. But beyond that, I have to say it was the way that it felt when I put it on for the first time. The comfort and the fit of the D.O.N. 4 stood out to me from the very beginning. I’m really looking forward to some of the colorways and stories we have lined up for you all.

I can’t give away anything just yet (grins). I’ve only played in four colorways so far, but I already have a few more with me on this trip [to Europe]. I wanted to give back to my middle school and make sure that they have a colorway that’s dedicated to them. And obviously Louisville will have one as well. I saw those two in person [at adidas HQ] for the first time and I’m excited for them. Those two probably mean the most to me personally, having the opportunity to give back to the schools that I went to growing up is pretty dope.

On his habit of stopping and interacting with kids whenever he sees somebody playing in his signature shoes:

One of those interactions just happened before I came out here [to the adidas HQ in Germany]. I was in Miami and some kids were working out in a gym right before I was. One of them was wearing my shoes, so I approached him and started talking to him for a little while, asking him why he bought them. Sometimes, kids just buy the shoes to hoop in and sometimes, there’s a more meaningful story behind it.

He explained to me how he has watched me for years and that I was his favorite player. Those stories are the coolest for me because I was that same kid not too long ago. And I would die for that moment with my favorite athlete. So, when I see a kid walking down the street – whether they’re wearing a shoe or a jersey or whatever else they might be wearing – that kid took the time out of their day to go out and purchase that item. That’s why I try to do the same and return the favor as a thank you.

On the reactions he gets when he jumps out of his car to compliment someone on their kicks:

Typically, kids are looking at my car, anyways. (laughs) But when they see me stepping out of the car, they’re like ‘Oh my goodness!’ And for me, that’s the moment that it’s all about. You play to win. And I play basketball to provide for my family. But those moments are truly special because you see the impact that you have on people just by showing up and dedicating a little bit of your time. That’s why I view it as one of my ways to say thank you.

Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

On the importance of his shoes being available at a certain price point:

Kids can be tough on each other. We all know that. Growing up, many of us can relate to not having certain things, myself included. There were some things that my friends had that I didn’t. Therefore, keeping the shoes at a price point that gives as many people as possible access to them without sacrificing on the performance side is a big deal to me.

It’s a dope feeling to see that kids are able to brag to their friends about the shoes they’re wearing. Whether it’s the Crayola’s from two years ago or last year’s Xbox edition – all about that dope feeling for the kids to be able to say ‘I got my pair!’

On tying his charitable work into the same belief:

The philosophy of being able to make the experience special for kids extends to my camps as well. That’s why every kid that goes to one of my camps gets a pair of my shoes. They get the opportunity to get the exclusive camp shoe that doesn’t go on sale to the public.

Now you have five different kids, wearing five different colors, explaining to their friends how and why they got it. Creating those topics of conversation while keeping it fun and light is something I want them to experience. Feeling left out or being bullied for what you’re wearing can have a really negative impact on a young person. I always tell kids they need to take of each other for that reason, never know what someone is going through behind closed doors.

Photo by Tyler Ross/NBAE via Getty Images

On whether a player’s appearance in the pre-game tunnel has already established itself not just as a topic of conversation but a de facto marketable asset:

The tunnel has become a big thing over the last couple of years. Huge, in fact. That has become our ‘runway’. You’re used to seeing us in shorts and basketball shoes but [the tunnel] gives you a flavor of what we’re like off the court.

I’ll say this: There are some guys in the league that wear clothes that are not who they are. (grins) But they get the fit off and it looks dope.

Me personally, I have a stylist now. We’ve been working together for a year and she’s dope. I treat it as a sneak preview of what I’m like outside of basketball. I rely on my stylist to figure out what works with my current vibe. About once a month, I’ll try on different outfits and then I’ll be good to go for the upcoming games. I’ll need to see the complete fit, top to bottom before making a decision.

On why you don’t see him arrive at a game in sweats anymore:

I have to give a shout-out to my former teammate Jae Crowder. [Who’s a fan of Deion, apparently.] He always used to say: If you look good, you feel good. And if you feel good, you play good. So, the bigger the game the more you have to treat it like you’re walking into a business meeting. I used to just throw on a pair of sweats and a hoody but as you mature you develop a different mindset. Gotta look sharp, gotta look the part. At the end of the day, basketball has provided a lot for me, so I approach it the way it is: It’s my job and I have to dress the part.

On getting into watches:

Watches are a new interest of mine. So, I’m not even going to pretend and throw around some names just for the sake of it. But I have a green-faced AP that I bought – it was pretty expensive – and a week after I bought it, I was offered triple what I had paid. That told me that I’d be able to make a return on my investment so I’ve been hooked.

On taking ownership / equity in marketing partnerships over traditional payment structures:

Being invested in what you’re doing as a whole instead of just being a face for that brand is definitely meaningful to me. That also means that you have to pay attention to what’s going on internally and externally within the company and industry as a whole. The more you do equity-based deals – instead of a purely financial compensation – the more you get to be involved in decision making. The way I see it though, the equity partnerships force you to learn more about what you’re building and ultimately allow you to create something that’s pretty special with your mark on it.

On whether topics like ownership or equity partnerships are discussed more frequently among players today than a few years ago:

When I got into the league, these types of partnerships just started to become topics of conversation. But today, guys aren’t afraid to sit in those meetings, be comfortable in those situations, speak our minds and have those types of conversations. I obviously can’t speak on the time before I got into the league but right now, I hear a lot about equity opportunities, especially from older players.

Equity deals force young players to mature quicker and learn about the business side of our game earlier in their career than they might have in the past. You have been fascinated by the league…and basketball has really only been fun for your entire life … and all of a sudden, you’re part of a massive international business. The topics are addressed in the [NBA’s] rookie orientation program but you’ve been enamored with the league for so long that it’s easy to not think about the business side right away.

I think that players in the league today can have these conversations, listen and learn from other athletes and entertainers too. By having open conversations and being part of the meetings with businesses and leaders, you can learn how to build something for yourself off of the basketball court – whether it’s during your career or once you’ve retired. You’ll still be young and able to have a second career after the NBA.  

On being introduced to the clubhouse culture early on as the son of a baseball player and things he picked up from there to apply during his own career:

(thinks) I’d say that the biggest thing that I remember to this day doesn’t have anything to do with how I play or how I lead. Honestly, it’s how you move as an athlete. [The Mets’] David Wright was the best player on the team, was a leader on the team, but the way that he allowed people to feel like they knew him without giving up his space has stuck with me.

I must have been around 9-years-old – and baseball is probably one of the most superstitious sports there are, so the biggest thing is that you don’t go into the guys’ lockers – and David allowed me to have that moment. Today, I’m 25 and I still remember that moment. Being around him. Watching him handle the media with grace. Watching him handle his bad nights with grace. Handling his good nights with grace. And handling me being the annoying little kid with grace. That has honestly inspired me to be that way for kids. The way I interact with kids actually came from that experience.

I don’t know if he knows that, I never told him that, but I would watch him without even realizing that I was learning those habits at an early age. It allowed me to realize that every moment you have with kids is impactful. That’s something I remember vividly to this day.

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