Me and Donovan Mitchell

The other day, Twitter recommended a bunch of topics for me to follow. And its recommendations confirmed for me the folly of paying attention to social media algorithms. Why?

Well, the first recommendation was Donovan Mitchell. And honestly, I had absolutely no idea who he was. (I’ve since learned that he plays for the Utah Jazz. Who knew?) Why did Twitter think I cared about a Utah Jazz basketball player? Probably because I tweet a lot about jazz. Like, the music.[fn1] And given the disaster that has been Utah’s response to Covid, I do more Utah-adjacent tweeting recently than I have done traditionally.

See, I don’t particularly care about the Utah Jazz.[fn2] I grew up in the suburbs of San Diego and shortly after my family moved there, the Clippers moved to LA. So growing up, to the extent I cared about professional basketball, I was a Lakers fan. In fact, the Lakers, the Clippers, the Knicks,[fn3] and the Bulls all have far more claim on my fandom that the Jazz (though growing up in a city without a basketball team, I didn’t really care much about the NBA.

But for a very short time, the Jazz managed to work their way into my religious life.


It’s like this: toward the end of my mission, Craig Zwick, a member of the Brazil Area Presidency, came to talk to some of us. And during a break, he came up to my companion. It turned out my companion had been a friend and high school classmate of one of Elder Zwick’s sons. Elder Zwick handed my companion a Sports Illustrated and told him to read a single article in it, an article about the Jazz. (Was it this issue? Maybe. I honestly don’t remember, but that’s probably roughly the right time period.) It’s been enough decades that I don’t remember the conversation in any kind of detail, but I’m pretty sure he told us, one way or another, that it would make us better missionaries.

We took it back to our house and read the article. Devoured it, actually–after a couple years of not reading anything except the approved missionary library, we were starving to read, like, anything. But we were missionaries, and serious missionaries. We’d been given permission to read one article, and that’s the only article in the magazine we read.

I’m sure we found it inspiring, and I’d be shocked if we didn’t somehow incorporate some of its themes (teamwork, maybe? stick-to-it-iveness? something something underdog?) into our companionship and our work. And I became a temporary fan of the Jazz.

That fandom outlived my mission, albeit barely. After we got home, I roomed with that companion for a semester, a semester that included the Jazz’s NBA finals loss to the Bulls, games that I watched with my roommates, cheering for the underdog Jazz (while marveling at Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot).

After that, we went our separate ways; I moved in with new roommates from California and Pennsylvania and stopped caring about the Jazz. But for almost a year, because of a mission companion and an Area Presidency member, the Jazz became briefly entwined with my religion.[fn4]

[fn1] And why is Utah’s basketball team named after a style of music that, while it clearly exists in Utah (it was BYU’s jazz program, under Ray Smith, that first drew me to BYU), isn’t particularly associated with the state? Well, because the Jazz started in New Orleans, a city intimately connected with the music. But, of course, jazz has at least as much salience in Utah as dodging trolleys does in Los Angeles.

[fn2] To preempt objections: I don’t have anything against the Jazz. They seem to be a perfectly fine team. But I don’t feel any affinity for them—I have none of those ineffable relationships with the team, with its players, or with Utah that would draw me to Jazz fandom.

[fn3] The Nets moved back to New York from New Jersey after I’d move to Chicago, so I don’t have any connection to the Nets.

[fn4] Also, while it’s not really relevant to anything here, does Twitter not understand rivalries? I’d be willing to wager that most people who really care about the BYU Cougars don’t really care about the Utah Utes (except where the two intersect) and vice versa. Like, there are exceptions, I’m sure—I know people who have an undergrad degree from one and a graduate degree from the other. But most of us don’t. So has Twitter never heard of rivalries or something?


  1. My mom grew up in Los Angeles and tells stories about riding the streetcars (ie trolleys) As an adult she used to take them to work. I looked and indeed LA had the largest streetcar system in the world in the 1920’s So maybe keeping the name wasn’t such a bad idea :-)

  2. Left Field says:

    Los Angeles isn’t exactly known for its Lakes, either.

  3. On artificial stupidity: My son recently decided to learn to play the electric bass. Naturally he started with some internet research.

    Now half the advertisements he sees are about bass fishing.

  4. Sam, you can’t see the relationship between Clark Terry and Donovan Mitchell? I’m disappointed. (Not really.) The best thing that happened to the Clippers while in San Diego was drafting Terry Cummings, an ordained Pentecostal minister, who came out of DePaul University by way of Chicago (a town you know something about) and named NBA Rookie of the Year. Since then it has all been downhill as far as I’m concerned. Cummings wore Nike’s Air Force, the most expensive basketball shoe made at the time, later to become the Air Jordan. The rest is history.

  5. Geoff - Aus says:

    I had a missionary companion who had a subscription to playboy magazine. I had never seen a playboy magazine before my mission. There were some quite good articles, between the pictures.
    Better than a sports magazine?

    I now get things about hearing aids, and cars. I’m a car nut.

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