“For a good 10 or 15 minutes, I think all of us on that flight were questioning if we were going to be here today” That's how Mike Conley described the atmosphere on the team's charter plane after they collided with a flock of birds, resulting in an engine fire and failure and forcing an emergency landing. It seemed so bad; some players were starting to send their goodbyes.
“That's how serious it was for us. I can't speak for everybody, but I know that guys were trying to text family just in case, you know? It was that kind of situation."
Mike Conley, ESPN
As someone who doesn't enjoy flying, I can only imagine the fear people on that plane were feeling. Thankfully, the pilots managed to land the plane, and no-one was seriously hurt. At least not physically. Donovan Mitchell talked about his fear of flying in the past, and this experience was so traumatic he didn't join the flight to Memphis. Jordan Clarkson said Donovan has the team's full support.
“It got to that point where we were all on the plane like, 'This might be really the end.' I mean, it was a crazy situation. I understand fully why Don didn't come."
Jordan Clarkson, ESPN
Jazz coach Quinn Snyder didn't want to share personal details about Donovan's state of mind when asked how this could impact further road games. The Jazz have a back-to-back at home coming up, and their first road game is on Monday vs. the Mavericks. Surely, the Jazz will give Donovan time to process the traumatic experience and get to a place where he feels comfortable enough to fly - that can be a while.
Actually, there are a lot of professional athletes whose fear of flying greatly impacted their careers. Wayne Gretzky used hypnosis treatment to try and get over his fear of flying. Early in Gretzky's career, his roommate Ace Bailey had to calm him down before every flight. Steelers legend James Harrison skipped on visiting Barack Obama in the White House after the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2009 because of his fear of flying, and would drive to any game possible.
The most famous example in the NBA is Royce White. Drafted as the 16th pick in the 2012 draft, White suffers from an anxiety disorder that triggers a fear of flying. His issues with flying were so extreme White was traded by the Rockets without making an appearance for the team. In '13, he was released by the Philadelphia 76ers, again without appearing in a single game. In the end, he played a total of 3 NBA games on a 10-day contract with the Kings.
I hope Mitchell's issues with flying aren't as severe as White's are, and he is back with the team as soon as possible. One of the reasons we're a lot more sensitive to issues like this, and Mitchell can count on a lot of support and understanding is the fact Royce White had the courage to speak about his issues and call out the NBA to improve its mental health policy.
We often don't think of it this way, but a severe case of anxiety or depression is as detrimental to an athlete's career as a torn Achilles or a broken bone. If a player needs to miss time because of it, a "suck it up" is the wrong response. You wouldn't say that to someone with a high ankle sprain, would you?