NBA to NBL to China, but Patty deserves our respect
Patty Mills wowed NBL fans, but did he leave them cold? (Image: mcsimmo)
I wrote a few weeks back that if Patty Mills left for the NBA the next day, his stay in the NBL would still be deemed a success.
A few weeks later, with the Tigers atop the NBL ladder and Mills the league’s scoring leader, Mills is leaving but, crucially, not to play in the NBA.
Mills is heading to China, and the success of his stay is now a source of passionate debate.
Mills’s defenders are as passionate as his critics. They think we should be grateful that Mills played here at all and for his tireless efforts to promote the league whilst here.
And Mills’s supporters, who label his visit to the NBL a success, do not lack evidence. Mills repped a media-starved NBL as well as he could, sold out a few games at ‘The Cage’, gave fans a taste of his NBA-level quickness and skills, all while leading the Tigers to a huge turnaround on the court.
But there’s also no doubting that the nature of his departure left some fans cold. Call them ‘fair-weather fans’ or ‘haters’ if you will, but those fans who are critical of Mills’s stay in the NBL have their reasons too.
When Mills joined the Tigers, at the expense of the Tigers longest-serving player Darryl Corletto, fans were given the impression that Mills had spurned big money to play in the NBL and was here to stay as long as the NBA debarcle lasted.
To many fans it was a shock then to see Mills depart to chase money elsewhere, even if, rationally, it was a totally understandable move for him (would you really turn down a contract for 10 times as much as your current salary? Don’t lie!).
In an era where sports have become inseparable from business for everyone except the fans, at a time when righteous journalists were chastising sportsmen like Tom Scully for their lack of loyalty, Mills didn’t receive enough credit for his decision to play on the cheap and do some good for basketball in Australia.
The tall poppy syndrome reigned throughout Mills’s stay with a stream of negativity from a small section of fans who criticised Mills for kicking out Corletto, for his play on court, and for just about anything they could think of.
When Mills announced his decision to leave for China, the critics felt vindicated and smugly inferred ‘I told you so’.
As a fan of the Tigers and the NBL, I am of course disappointed in Mills’s decision to leave. After watching him lead the Tigers back to relevance and generate some excitement around the league, I can’t help but feel a little hurt to see him now leave, especially for that most ugly of reasons: money.
To be honest, I think the irrational and idealistic fan in me really wanted to believe that Mills would forsake money to be a part of the Tigers and the NBL, and his departure shattered these romantic illusions and reinforced that sports is a business after all.
It was also a case of yet another NBL star departing too soon, for a league and club that in recent years have had far too much player turnover, at the cost of building rapport between their fans and players.
I’ll move on from Mills’s departure, and I suspect other fans will too. After all, fans are gluttons for punishment and the same fans that were upset by the loss of Patty Mills will happily open their arms to Andrew Bogut, only to be hurt when he inevitably leaves too.
I am annoyed that the nature of Mills’s departure has given his critics ammunition because while the Patty Mills era may not have ended satisfactorily, it was a great and in many ways, a wildly successful venture both on and off the court.
Thanks for the memories Patty, and so long.
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