The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will see the return of several familiar faces for Australia. And though many of them have represented their nation with dignity and and ardour, one in particular stands above all the rest in his efforts as a sportsperson, but more importantly, as an ambassador for Australian values.
Patty Mills is a tone setter both on and off the court, and should most certainly be the Aussie flag bearer in Tokyo.
It’s a sentiment that is shared by former NBL champion Mark Worthington — who went so far as to say that “if he’s not the flag bearer in 2020, I’m not here” — as well as Boomers legend Andrew Gaze. Gaze was the flag bearer for the 2000 Sydney Games, and remains alongside Lauren Jackson (2012) as the only basketball players to hold the honour for Australia. As two of the greatest basketball players this nation has ever seen, that is some stiff competition to live up to, but Mills is every bit as deserving to be the next in line.
The man we lovingly call Patty Thrills is the heart and soul of the Boomers squad, and as he prepares for his fourth Olympic appearance, he is just as focused and determined as ever.
"We will be ambitious, and we would like to have a great and happy run in Tokyo," he said earlier this month. "We don't want to experience that fourth spot ever again."
Mills was elite in last year's World Cup, averaging 22.8 points per game, and that fourth place finish remains a sour point for what was otherwise an MVP-calibre performance.
He is, of course, an NBA champion, celebrating the title as a member of the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, and more recently, became the first Australian in NBA history to hit 1,000 career 3-pointers.
Obviously, Mills’ exploits on the hardwood are what he is best known for on the international scene, but it is not the most important element of why he is the golden standard of Australian athletes.
For as good as Mills is as a basketball player, he is an even better human being. We live in an era where accessibility has made celebrities larger than life, where bombastic personalities that grab ratings and headlines are tolerated, and sometimes even celebrated.
As loathe as I am to throw others under the bus, I cast your attention towards Nick Kyrgios. In Grand Slams, he has never progressed past the quarterfinals, and the last time he managed even that was 2015. Despite this, he remains one of the nation’s most notorious personalities, for all of the wrong reasons. His outbursts, his verbal sniping, his immaturity, his boneheaded brother; he is a C-list athlete approaching A-list publicity.
Mills proves to be the antithesis. He is humble and hardworking, a consummate professional, a beloved teammate, and a man who is proud of his heritage and his roots. The way Mills has acted as de facto spokesperson for Indigenous communities has been nothing short of inspirational. He represents the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with reverence, and his initiatives have run the gamut, from helping to promote outlets and opportunities for upcoming Indigenous athletes, to creating clean drinking water for remote Indigenous communities. In 2017, he was named NAIDOC Person of the Year for advocating Indigenous rights.
Mills’ views go beyond his own heritage, however, as he was instrumental in the Spurs’ introduction of the NBA's inaugural Indigenous Night this season. The organisation described it as "an effort to bring light to Indigenous cultures throughout the world", including San Antonio’s Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation. He has also collaborated on a limited edition Tap Pilam clothing line.
“There are Indigenous people throughout the world and hopefully the message can reach those people and make them want to achieve the best, whether that’s basketball or sport or anything else,” Mills said prior to the event. “That’s the message. I’m using my story to be able to connect with other people. Even if you’re not Indigenous or native to where you’re from, I hope you can connect with the story.”
Every time you see Patty Mills’ name in the headlines in a non-basketball context, it is for reasons like this. Not for scandals or controversy, but as an advocate for change, for progress, for recognition, and for awareness. He is a difference maker, possessing a passion that is vociferous and impactful.
When the Illawarra Hawks first introduced their indigenous jerseys for the 2018/19 NBL campaign, Mills applauded the decision, but still called for a league-wide effort, saying on Twitter, “the NBL has done some great things in recent times. Would be great to see them follow the Illawarra Hawks and support an Indigenous Round so the whole league across two countries can be involved in celebrating this significant event.”
Fast forward to today, and that dream becomes a reality, with the NBL’s Indigenous Round kicking off on 29 January.
Mills fights against marginalisation, against racism, and for a cause that is much bigger than any single man or woman. He is an envoy for people to celebrate who they are and where they came from. As he so wonderfully phrased it, “we are not makers of history, we are made of history”.
Oh and by the way, he’s also served as the ambassador for the NBL as well as the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, has written a series of children’s books that encourage values and discipline, spearheaded multiple charity campaigns with not-for-profit organisation Wears My Shirt, and was part of a joint initiative that contributed $1.1 million (AUD) towards bushfire relief and recovery efforts.
To put it simply, Mills is aspirational. I only glossed over his basketball achievements, because as groundbreaking as they are, they do not define who he is, and what he has done to better the lives of countless others. A flag bearer is not just an athlete, they are a representative of the flag they carry. They ought to be the kind of person that young, impressionable kids can look at and say ‘I want to be like them when I grow up’.
Patty Mills is too many things to define succinctly, but one of those things, we are blessed to say, is Australian. We are honoured to call him our own, and in turn, he is most deserving of the honour of carrying the flag in Tokyo.