Mitchell remembered for his community work

By Jerry Briggs

Long after the cheering stopped for one of the best players in Spurs history, Mike Mitchell tried to deliver a message of hope to troubled kids.

The former sweet-shooting small forward dedicated the last years of his life to that mission.

“He loved it,” former Spurs forward Mark Olberding said. “That was his passion. He had some personal issues he was going through as a player, and he turned (around) and gave back to the community, helping those at-risk kids.

“He did a great job. He’ll be forever remembered for that.”

Mitchell, a 1980s-era Spur, was memorialized in a ceremony attended by about 300 people Thursday night at the Antioch Sports and Community Center.

A San Antonio resident and longtime member of the Antioch Baptist Church, Mitchell died June 9 after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 55.

The crowd at the service was an eclectic mix.

Several former NBA players, including former Spurs Olberding, Paul Griffin, Larry Kenon, Mike Gale, Keith Edmondson and Reggie Johnson, turned out.

They all sat in a section with some of the Baseline Bums, the team’s long-time fan group.

Also, former Cleveland Cavaliers standout Campy Russell made a trip from Cleveland, where he works as the team’s director of alumni relations.

Russell was a fifth-year player with the Cavaliers when Mitchell came into the NBA as a rookie in 1978.

“Today was the first day I realized that Mike was gone,” a tearful Russell told the group. “We were always close. We hit it off right away, and we played the same position — can you imagine that?”

Other less-familiar faces with important jobs in the San Antonio community also attended. One was Roy Washington, superintendent of the Cyndi Taylor Krier Juvenile Correctional Treatment Center.

Mitchell, as CEO of a non-profit that focused on drug counseling for youth, often held court several years ago with kids at the Bexar County-operated Krier center.

“Mike was very personable,” Washington said. “Those kids paid attention to him.”

Mitchell had quite a story to tell.

He played professional basketball for 22 years in the NBA and in Europe, including seven with the Spurs from 1981-88.

A dashing talent with a 19.8-point career scoring average in 10 NBA seasons, he played with Hall of Famers George Gervin and Artis Gilmore on the Spurs. He dueled in the playoffs against the Magic Johnson-led Los Angeles Lakers.

Afterward, he went overseas and thrilled fans in Italy with a feathery jump shot. Part of his story wasn’t so thrilling.

In 1987, Mitchell checked into a rehabilitation center, a victim of substance abuse.

“I wasn’t worried about him,” Russell said. “He had a lot of good people around him. That was really the greatness of Mike Mitchell. He was willing to change.”

Rehabilitation was an experience that prompted Mitchell to found the National Institute of Sobriety, Education, Rehabilitation and Recovery (NISERR), a non-profit designed to combat chemical dependency.

Starting in 2003, following a long basketball career in Europe, Mitchell went into schools and correctional facilities in San Antonio to spread the word. He was encouraging. He was upbeat.

He was loud.

“Mike was pretty dynamic,” Washington said. “He came in and with his height and that commanding baritone voice. He had their attention. He joked with the kids, and they laughed a lot. They apparently (listened to) everything he was saying because they would give it back to him.”

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