This year, Donovan Mitchell has been learning to live with mobs. In New York for the NBA draft in June, he stopped at a Champs Sports to shake some hands and sign some shoes. After the event, he expected to sneak out a side exit but instead was confronted with a cascading wave of fans rushing in for unsanctioned signatures. As they pointed their phones at him, he in turn focused his phone's camera on them. Arms flung forward to pat his shoulders, and feet ran after his SUV as it sputtered away in Times Square traffic. Through it all, Mitchell just smiled.
That's not how most people would react to a mob, but for Mitchell this kind of attention is still a pleasant surprise. He wasn't the No. 1 pick in the draft; he barely broke into the lottery. And he didn't win Rookie of the Year—even if he did some damage to the NBA's definition of the word "rookie." But he still had the glow-up of all glow-ups when so few expected him to. In his first pro season, Mitchell cozied up to the kings of the league, helped a recently spurned fanbase learn to love again and even added a word to the dictionary.
Not long ago, none of this seemed possible—not this season anyway. Less than 10 years ago, he was just a Connecticut middle schooler watching LeBron James make "The Decision" in person. A few years after that, he was a cocky two-sport star who thought his future was in the infield instead of the backcourt. Fast-forward a couple of years, and he was a sophomore at Louisville, heartbroken about a recent NCAA tournament loss and convinced he would return to school for his junior season. Instead, he decided to test the NBA draft waters. But what started as a submerged toe ended up as one of the biggest cannonball splashes in the league last season.