NEW YORK — Donovan Mitchell still remembers the noise. As a young fan sitting inside Madison Square Garden during a playoff game years ago, he was watching the New York Knicks, his hometown team, play on the game’s biggest stage.
On Friday, before a pivotal Game 3 (the series is tied 1-1; 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC) as the star player of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he’ll walk into the World’s Most Famous Arena in a role he never could have anticipated back then: villain.
“It’s fun,” Mitchell said after Friday’s shootaround. “I think as a competitor you want to be booed. At the end of the day, it’s just 5-on-5 basketball. It’s going to be fun, the environment’s going to be crazy … I look back in 20-25 years I can say, ‘Man, this was a lot of fun to experience and we got to come out of here with a win.”
Mitchell acknowledged he had to make some adjustments in recent weeks in advance of his postseason reunion at home. That’s because many of his friends are Knicks fans.
“I’ve cut off a lot of communication with my friends, to be honest with you,” Mitchell said. “I’ve left some group chats. I assume they want me to do the best I can and then the Knicks come out with the win, but at the end of the day for a kid like myself to be playing back here in the playoffs, it’s going to be a lot of fun … But as far as my friends go, I hope they see this, y’all can kiss my ass. We got to win tonight — so I love y’all.”
The Knicks, and Mitchell’s former team, the Utah Jazz, famously discussed a deal last summer that would have sent Mitchell back to New York, but the Cavs swooped in and dashed any hopes of a homecoming. A little less than a year later, Mitchell said he has long since moved on.
“I’m past that,” Mitchell said. “Obviously coming back here, I haven’t seen anybody, I haven’t spoken to any of my friends, just kind of staying locked in in the moment, the present, and I’m sure at some point in time I’ll sit and reflect and look at it and be like, ‘Wow. As a kid, being from here, playing here, would be dope, but at the same time I got a job to do, be a leader for these guys.'”
Mitchell said his friends know that when the series ends he’ll rejoin the text chains, but for now he will do his best to help the Cavs knock off the team so many around him wanted him to play for.
“I did it a while ago actually,” he said of his decision to leave the chats. “I did it probably before the playoffs even started just because I knew. It’s all love with my friends, they know, but they love to bark, so just kind of ignoring all the distractions and being the best player for my team that I can be.”