Online With Patty Mills
By: Lorne Chan Spurs.com
The first time Patty Mills truly felt a connection with another athlete was as a 12-year-old, jumping up and down in his family’s living room.
The 2000 Summer Olympics were taking place in Sydney. Mills was about 200 miles away in Canberra, watching Cathy Freeman run with the hopes of Australia behind her.
Freeman put the hood over her running suit, and Mills mimicked the same motion. He was like her, and she was like him, indigenous Australians proud of their culture and heritage. When Freeman crossed the finish line with a gold medal, Mills and his parents celebrated in the living room. He still remembers the tears of joy from that day and an inspiration that has never left him.
“What I learned from Cathy was to be the best you could be and not sell yourself short,” Mills said. “I still use that same mindset. You have to be able to reach for the moon. You have to be able to have those sort of goals.”
Mills hopes he can be the same role model for others that Freeman was for him. For kids cheering in living rooms all over the world, technology has changed since 2000. Mills has created a personal website, PattyMills.com.au, to share his story and connect with fans.
The website traces his career from the beginning, and Mills said he hopes to use the site to give fans everywhere a glimpse of his life in San Antonio.
“I wanted to use this site as a platform to connect Australia and anyone around the world to San Antonio,” Mills said. “I wanted to be able to share what makes this organization and this community in San Antonio so special.”
Following the lead of Freeman, Mills has been conscious of sharing his heritage. His “GAME DAY BALA GAME DAY!!! tweets became a familiar sight and fans quickly caught on, calling Mills “Bala” when they would see him in public.
Bala is the Torres Strait word for brother.
“When fans say ‘Bala,’ that’s cultural awareness to me,” Mills said. “I hope I’ve helped open up their world a little. There are kids who see us as role models the same way I looked up to Cathy. I hope I can create something similar for a kid in Australia or anywhere in the world”
Dig around on the site and there’s a photo of Mills as a teenager as a member of the Gerib Sik Torres Strait Islander Dance Group. There are the three flags he represents – Australia, Torres Strait Islands, and the Australian Aboriginal Flag.
When Mills ran around his living room, mimicking Cathy Freeman’s victory lap stride for stride, he watched as she grabbed two flags, the Aboriginal and Australian Flags. Some Australians at the time deemed the statement as unpatriotic, and Freeman had created national controversy for doing the same at an earlier race.
Fourteen years later, when he became the first indigenous Australian to win an NBA championship, Mills grabbed two flags. He handed the Australian flag to fellow Aussie Aron Baynes and draped the green, blue and white Torres Strait flag over his shoulders.
“Things are bigger than basketball,” Mills said. “The Spurs are great at helping you know that you’re not just at the gym every day to throw a ball around, but you’re here to represent. It’s my sixth year now and there’s a lot of pride and passion I’ve taken from playing for the Spurs.”
In six seasons in San Antonio, Mills said he hopes he’s made the Spurs Australia’s team as well. With his new site, he hopes Australians and fans around the world get a chance to see what made Texas his second home.
“Over six years, a lot of Australian Spurs fans have been on the journey with me and watched me grow here,” Mills said. “At the end of the day, they’re a big reason I play basketball, to show the passion I have for the game, to do something that I love. Hopefully, it inspires others as well.”