Point Guard For Charity and Relief

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.

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When a series of floods devastated the Australian state of Queensland, Patty Mills wanted to help. Thousands were evacuated, more than 30 people perished and approximately three-fourths of the state was declared a disaster zone in 2011.

An indigenous Australian, Mills chose an unusual form of disaster relief. Selling t-shirts. As a Portland Trail Blazer, Mills partnered with "Wears My Shirt" -- or WMS -- a non-profit that sells t-shirts to raise awareness and money for charitable causes.

WMS printed shirts for Mills in six sizes and three colors -- with "Charity Stripe" on the front, "Assist Australia" on the back -- that went for $15 each. Mills sold tees at malls and schools and through his foundation. He enlisted teammates in the campaign. "We raised $40,000," Mills says. "You've got to sell a lot of t-shirts to raise that much."

Just as important, Mills says, was making people aware of the floods that ravaged Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland. News reports indicate more than 28,000 homes were flooded. Damage estimates approached $3 billion.

When Mills joined the Spurs in March, he began focusing on a new cause, Cottage by the Sea, an Australian charity that provides short-term relief to primary school children, some of whom come from homes rife with violence and drug abuse.

Through WMS, Mills sold shirts to benefit the charity during the Spurs' first-round playoff series against Utah. "That was not a one-time thing," he says. "We'll use the Olympics as an opportunity to raise money by selling shirts."

The Summer Games begin in July in London. A quick-as-a-blink point guard, Mills will represent Australia for the second time. The Aussies finished seventh in 2008 at the Beijing Games and will compete this year without center Andrew Bogut, who is recovering from ankle surgery. Few expect Australia to contend.

And Mills?

"If we are going to do anything special at a big event, I think this is the year to do it," he says. "We have been together now for a number of years. Half the team has grown up together playing at the junior level." And besides, "We are well coached by Brett Brown."

Brown, the Spurs assistant, shares Mills' optimism. He recently told an Australian newspaper, "We want to win a medal."

A medal would help move t-shirts. It would help Mills connect with a neglected population. "My motivation for helping," he says, "is that I come from a culture that isn't given a lot of opportunity"

Mills is the only child of Indigenous Australians, parents whose ancestors were original inhabitants of the continent. His mother, an Aboriginal, and father, a Torres Strait Islander, come from a discriminated population. Indigenous Australians were not counted in the official census until 1971.

Studies show Indigenous Australians have less education, lower incomes and shorter life expectancies than the rest of the population. The challenges led Patty's parents, Yvonne and Benny, to work through the government to improve conditions for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. They also created a basketball club for children of Indigenous peoples, "Shadows."

Their son started playing for "Shadows" at age 4. Patty grew up among children who felt the pain of bigotry and poverty. He watched his parents serve the underserved, year after year, until he did the same.

He had other role models. Cathy Freeman, an Aboriginal, won gold in the 2000 Olympic 400-meters in Sydney, Australia. She also won acclaim for charitable work with children.
"She's been one of my idols," Patty says.

One of Freeman's favorite causes: Cottage by the Sea. The relationship attracted Patty and soon he became a high-profile partner. "I wanted to follow in Cathy's footsteps," he says.

Patty not only sells shirts to benefit Cottage by the Sea, he co-designs them. The inscription on his latest effort: "GAMEDAY BALA GAMEDAY." Patty uses "bala" as a synonym for "brother." The shirts sell from $22 to $24, and he hopes the demand spikes during the London Games.

"I realize how rare it is for someone like me to reach this level," he says. "So I'm using my stature in basketball to help other people. I'm more than happy to do it. I can see myself helping Wears My Shirt and other charities for a long time."