Patty Mills continues to live in the afterglow of his greatest basketball accomplishment. Since arriving home and completing two weeks of hotel quarantine, Mills has been galivanting around Australia, sharing his bronze medallion with those who helped elevate him onto the podium in Tokyo.
Mills delivered on a promise to bring an Olympic medal back home to his parents. Wearing his bronze medal and with his wife and parents in attendance, he received a hero’s welcome after returning to the Torres Strait Islands last week. He championed a Boomers Culture Celebration in Queensland in August – with Boomers, both past and present, on hand to absorb the history made with victory over Slovenia in Tokyo.
That Boomers culture now has a tangible reward to match the gaudy reputation that has been incubated by Australian basketball. The power of this invisible hand has long been discussed. Every year, when the Australian Boomers would fall short of a medal at major tournaments, their culture was opined as the secret sauce which allowed the team to elevate into the medal rounds. But it had never been enough to lift them onto the podium.
When Team USA defeated Australia in the Tokyo semi-finals, fears ragged within the local sporting community, that this Boomers’ campaign would be heading down a familiar road – a one way ticket to fourth place. But Mills, who has long carried the torch for his basketball team and his community, is adamant the team’s culture helped this group of Boomers make history.
“In my heart of hearts, I believe that our Boomers culture and how strong it has become, how tight it has become and how every person and every player had bought into that, I believe that it’s carried us over the line at the end of the day,” Mills recently told The Guardian. “It’s meaningful to us as a team, and when we play, that can come pouring out. You can go down the line to this current team, but in the same breath, it did take this particular group – this particular group of players, coaching staff – to get over the hump to then give the light of day to the people that have come before us.”
Mills has long spoken of the deeper meaning that comes from wearing the singlet of a side. It’s a sentiment he has echoed for both club and country – for the San Antonio Spurs, Mills was the flagbearer during their transition away from a dynastic run earlier this century.
For his country, Mills speaks like a man who is tapping into a national history every time he steps on the court. Mills mentioned Michael Ah Matt and Danny Morseu in the moments following his 42-point masterpiece against Slovenia – two Indigenous Australians who were trailblazers within Australian basketball. Mills also pointed to the legacy of Andrew Gaze and, more recently, Andrew Bogut, as men who were big parts of the Tokyo triumph.
How Mills has spoken over the past month only reinforces what he has preached to the global sporting ecosystem over the past 15 years - this success from the Boomers was a community effort. It was a generational accomplishment; one that was generations in the making. With success, came a moment in time that allowed the diversity of Australia to be seen through a group of twelve basketballers.
“Standing on the podium for the first time in history for us,” Mills told The Guardian, “and you have Joe Ingles, myself, Matthew Dellavedova – a country boy – Matisse Thybulle, Josh Green, their backgrounds. Duop Reath, his background. Just look at our team and see how unifying that is.
“Matthew Dellavedova has an Aboriginal flag tucked into his pocket that he pulls out and someone else has a Torres Strait Islander flag... and now we’re standing on the Olympic podium with our medals, as diverse as we are as a team, with Australian flags.”
The Tokyo version of Boomers boasted athletes from African-American and South Sudanese backgrounds, with Mills also a proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander man. The moment where they stood, side by side, to receive their bronze medals was, at the time, a powerful moment, and one that will grow in stature as the years rolls on.
Mills, now 33, also sealed a seismic change in his NBA life during his Tokyo excursion. After a decade with the Spurs, Mills ended his career in Texas by opting for a two-year contract with the Brooklyn Nets. Moving to Brooklyn instantly elevates Mills back into the NBA championship conversation. Playing alongside Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden offers Mills the chance to undertake a soft reset of his NBA career.
“I think it was an opportunity for me to turn the page on a new chapter,” said Mills, when speaking at his Nets introductory press conference. “Speaking about Brooklyn, and everything that I've learned — on the court, off the court — the culture of the city I think it was something that was very attractive to me and my wife.
“To be able to make a next step I guess in our life was very exciting for us. The familiar faces around the organization is something that was very comfortable as well, especially for my wife. But I think at the end of the day, you know, the culture of what the city is, the organisation is, everything that is based around that I think was very intriguing to me and interesting.”
Nets general manager, Sean Marks, and lead assistant, Jacque Vaughn, have both spent time in San Antonio over the past decade with Mills. The Australian gives Marks a role model to embody the culture he was a part of San Antonio. Mills said his decision to sign with the Nets was underpinned by the numerous relationships he already had with those inside the Brooklyn leadership group. He also credits a conversation with Durant for making his decision to join the NBA’s leading contender an easy one.
“The conversation that I had with Kevin (Durant) was so pure and so genuine,” Mills added. “Being able to understand that he’s such a pure hooper — It was exciting for me to know that there’s an opportunity there for me to try to be who I am like I am in the national team.”