Mike Mitchell, a 1980s-era Spurs forward known for his inspired play against the in the playoffs, died Thursday morning after a two-year battle with cancer.
The San Antonio resident was 55.
Mitchell spent 10 seasons in the NBA, averaging 19.8 points and 5.6 rebounds.
With the Spurs, he averaged 20.1 in seven seasons. His 9,799 points rank sixth in franchise history.
On the floor, Mitchell was deadly with a mid-range jumper.
Off it, he was known to have battled substance-abuse issues. But Mitchell also never wavered in displaying stand-up accountability.
Those close to the Spurs during the 1980s remember No. 34’s gentle demeanor and an outrageously loud, baritone laugh.
“Don’t ask me no more questions,” Mitchell would tell the media, playfully jousting with reporters in the locker room.
Then, dripping sweat in the cramped dressing quarters at HemisFair Arena, he would patiently talk with the assembled press corps until the last question was asked.
A one-time, NBA All-Star with the , Mitchell was a first-round draft pick out of in 1978.
He played in the All-Star Game at home at the Richfield Coliseum in 1981.
But within a year he would be shipped off to San Antonio to join the Spurs and coach , who had served as coach in Cleveland for one season.
Playing for the Albeck-coached Spurs, Mitchell made an immediate impact.
The 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward teamed with All-Star guard and later with to help the franchise win back-to-back Midwest Division titles.
After the Spurs claimed regular-season, division titles in both 1982 and ’83, Mitchell enjoyed perhaps the greatest moments of his career in playoff battles against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Both years, the Lakers with and eliminated the Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
But not before Mitchell would have his say in the matter. Both years, the former Atlanta high school standout lit up the Lakers, averaging more than 25 points in each series.
He averaged 25.7 and 8.3 rebounds in the 1982 West finals, when the Spurs were swept 4-0.
Bolstered with the addition of the 7-2 Gilmore in the 1983 series, the Spurs put up more of a fight before falling in six games to the defending NBA champions.
Once again, with Lakers perimeter defenders and focused on Gervin, Mitchell broke loose with his mid-range game to average 25.6 points and 10.3 rebounds.
The ’83 series finale was a heartbreaker for Mitchell, who took the last two shots in the closing seconds of a 101-100 loss.
Johnson deflected one shot. The second one, hoisted from about 10 feet with the 7-2 Abdul-Jabbar defending, skidded off the rim.
The horn sounded with Gilmore under the basket, trying to get off a shot.
The Lakers, beaten twice on their home court in the series, had won for the third time within a span of eight days at the sold-out, downtown arena.
Afterward, Mitchell did not hide from reporters in the locker room.
He said the deflection on his first attempt might have thrown him off rhythm, but he said he had a clean look on his second try.
“I had an open shot and I blew it,” Mitchell said.
Four years later, Mitchell suffered a career low when he checked himself into a treatment center in California. Spurs management confirmed it was for drugs. He would miss the last month of the 1986-87 season.
His career with the Spurs, and in the NBA, essentially was over.
He played one more season in silver and black and joined the team briefly in 1989-90 before embarking on a second career in Europe.
In all, he played 22 years in professional basketball.
In recent years, Mitchell worked as a counselor with at-risk youth in San Antonio.
“We run after-school programs and on Saturdays at the juvenile detention center,” he told of clevelandcavaliers.com. “We deal with kids 13- through 16-years old.”