When the OKC Thunder selected Josh Giddey with the sixth pick of the 2021 NBA draft, it was met with mixed emotions. The Australian…
Patty Mills could be Australian of the Year every year.
The Boomers star deserves all the accolades that come his way for his work off the basketball court and he’s in the running to be rewarded with the Australian of the Year honour after recently being named as the ACT’s nomination for the 2022 award.
The Canberra-born 33-year-old guard is a proud Muralag man from the Torres Strait and Ynunga man from South Australia.
He flies three flags, he represents all Australians.
It doesn’t sound trite when describing Mills this way but he truly cares for everyone in his country and you can see he wants it to reach its potential.
His vision is to see a time when the nation is unified and he’s actually doing something to achieve it.
He knows the pain of the past – his mother, Yvonne, was a member of the Stolen Generations, a relic of Australia’s shameful policy which up until a little more than half a century ago allowed the government to take Indigenous children from their families to be integrated into white society.
Despite spending the best part of 13 years in the States making a name for himself as one of the elite shooters in the NBA, he’s remained connected to country.
During the NBA off-season when most stars put their feet up, Mills returns to his homeland and visits remote Indigenous communities in the Torres Strait Islands to inspire people of all ages.
And he backs up his actions with money – last year he donated $1.5 million to Black Lives Matter Australia, Black Deaths in Custody and the We Got You campaign.
As well as writing a series of children books to inspire the next generation of players, he launched the not-for-profit organisation Indigenous Basketball Australia to deliver grassroots basketball programs to young Indigenous people.
And he’s also set up the Team Mills Foundation which helps communities in Australia and the US with issues such as clean drinking water, education, environmental and wildlife conservation and supporting women’s and children’s shelters.
None of this is done for publicity – the only time he wants attention is to help shed a light on the fortunes of those less fortunate and to raise money where it’s needed.
During his lengthy championship-winning stint with San Antonio, his activism struck a chord with legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who famously told the tale of Eddie Mabo in a team talk in the lead-up to the 2014 NBA Finals against Miami.
Mills was stunned when Popovich took valuable time just a few days out from the clash with LeBron James and the Heat to educate his players on Mabo Day and the successful High Court challenge to terra nullius which established native title into Australian law.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Mills then had the series of his life as the Spurs played the epitome of united, team basketball to upset the Heat and exact revenge on their Finals defeat 12 months earlier.
His philanthropic passion led to the franchise hosting the NBA’s first Indigenous Night last season, honouring the First Nations people from around the world and educating San Antonio about the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation which had inhabited their region for more than 12,000 years.
There have been several people who have won Australian of the Year honours pretty much on the basis of their sporting achievements alone.
You can always make a case that there are many high achievers, particularly in the science and health realms, whose work is more important to the nation than sport but Mills can safely be considered a worthy candidate for his work off the court.
Oh and by the way, he’s in the midst of arguably the best year of his career.
He’s averaging career highs for Brooklyn to help the Nets lead the Eastern Conference despite the absence of fellow guard Kyrie Irving, who has refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Mills has been a revelation for the team – hitting three-pointers at a rate of 47.8% to be second in the NBA behind surprise leader, Pelicans centre Jonas Valanciunas.
He’s averaging career highs in minutes (27.9), points (12.2), threes per game (3.1) and on-court plus/minus (6.9).
It’s safe to say that his numbers had been restricted somewhat during his time in San Antonio, like another bench stalwart Manu Ginobili, due to Popovich’s preference for an even spread of playing time and scoring output.
But at Brooklyn, Mills is relishing the extra responsibility and repaying coach Steve Nash’s faith with the perfect complementary scorer alongside former MVPs Kevin Durant and James Harden.
And then there’s the small matter of Mills spearheading Australia’s long-awaited first men’s medal at an Olympic Games.
The Boomers had come up short so many times in major competitions it wasn’t funny, seriously – finishing fourth at the 1988, 1996, 2000 and 2016 Olympics.
When they missed out on bronze after a dubious foul call on Mills with seconds left to lose 89-88 to Spain in 2016, everyone in Australian basketball was fuming – spewing profanities at the ref who made the dreadful call.
Mills, who knew better than anyone that it was a horrendous call, was interviewed on court straight afterwards – in yet another sign of his humility and accountability, he refused to blow the whistle on the ref and instead said the team needed to be better or they would never achieve their goals.
With his “good vibes only” mantra permeating the team at the Tokyo Olympics in August, he was one of the top players in the tournament alongside All Stars like his future Brooklyn teammate in Durant and Luka Doncic.
The Boomers went through the pool games undefeated, trounced Argentina in the quarters, gave the US a run for their money in the semi-final and then vanquished Slovenia despite a few nervous moments to claim the bronze – or “rose gold” as Mills prefers to call it – medal.
With the weight of history on his shoulders, his 42-point haul in the playoff for bronze deserves to be remembered among Australian sport’s finest individual achievements.
He was recognised on Thursday night by Sport Australia by becoming the first basketballer to win The Don award for his feats at the Olympics.
“I go about my craft as a professional and learn ways to get better, trying to carry myself in a way that I think can inspire others,” Mills said in a statement.
“I never set out to win awards like this, I go about my craft as a professional and learn ways to get better and do so in carrying myself in a way I think I can inspire others.
“The honour isn’t necessarily about me, it’s about the impact on unity, identity, being proud of who you are and expressing that passionately.”
Hopefully it’s not the last award he receives in the near future to recognise his unique and impactful place on the Australian sporting landscape.
Out of the box scores: Stat of the week
LaMelo Ball racked up career highs on Thursday for points when he sizzled for 36 against Milwaukee and three-pointers when he landed eight, including a brilliant fadeaway with five seconds remaining to tie the game up. The graduate of the world-famous Illawarra Hawks Finishing School also chipped in nine assists, five rebounds and three steals but Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo stole the win with a drive to the hoop.
Saturday – Suns @ Warriors, 2pm AEDT
The two hottest teams in the NBA going head to head for the second time in four days after Phoenix drew first blood at home. There’s a fair chance they’ll meet over a seven-game series sometime in the Western Conference playoffs.
Sunday – Heat @ Bucks, 12pm AEDT
These teams have met in the playoffs the past two years and are building a healthily unhealthy rivalry.