Over the past couple of days, Utah Jazz players have recounted the terrifying details of their near-catastrophic charter flight to Memphis on Tuesday, when a damaged engine caused by a bird strike forced the plane back to Salt Lake City for an emergency landing.
The team boarded a second flight to Memphis a few hours later, but one player was notably missing. All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell chose to stay in Utah, and was absent for the Jazz's 111-107 win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday night, due to a pre-existing fear of flying that was compounded by the team's horrific experience.
"I immediately got scared as s---, because I hate flying in general, and it didn't sound good," Mitchell said on Friday, via The Salt Lake Tribune. "I was sitting across from Royce [O'Neale] and we were just kind of sitting there praying, in a sense, because we really didn't know what was going on. … I texted my mom, my dad, my sister, just letting them know, 'This could be it.' That's a scary thought. Just kind of saying, 'I love you guys.' Literally writing what could have been your last words. That was, for me, the scariest part."
Afterward, Mitchell didn't feel he was in the right mental or emotional space to take the second flight.
"I just needed that day, mentally. It was just like, I can't make that trip, not for a game," Mitchell said. "Some things are just bigger than the game of basketball itself. And that right there was it for me. Everybody kind of has their different things -- mine happens to be flying, as you all know. I've never had a situation like that -- I've had bad turbulence days, but I've never had a situation like that. And I just needed to take that time, because it just wasn't feeling or sitting right with me to go on the trip, and my teammates and my coaches and everybody respected that. I appreciate the support."
Clearly, Mitchell has been able to overcome his fear of flying thus far in his NBA career, but it's understandable why a traumatic experience like Tuesday's would bring that anxiety back to the surface. Mitchell added that he thinks he will be ready to join the team on its next road trip, which starts with Monday's game in Dallas.
"I understand I have a job to do. I can't pull a John Madden and drive everywhere -- much as I would love to, I can't. I understand I've got to do that. I've calmed down and I'll be good -- should be good, at least I think, for the rest of the season."