Patty Mills talks Australian basketball, his Spurs career and The Last Dance
With basketball paused around the world, San Antonio Spur and Australian Boomer stalwart Patty Mills recently sat down and answered a series of questions on the NBA's official Twitter account. The three-time Olympian touched on the rise of Australian basketball, his Spurs journey and the recently released documentary series around Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' 1997/98 season, "The Last Dance", in which Australian basketball legend, Luc Longley played a key part of.
Like many basketball fans around the world, Mills tuned into the recent premiere of The Last Dance on Netflix. He shared his appreciation for Jordan's passing ability, as well as the trust he placed in teammates such as Steve Kerr and John Paxson. Given that he is a point guard, it's perhaps unsurprising that Mills drew inspiration from Jordan's playmaking.
“Favourite Michael Jordan memory - there’s obviously that many to choose from. Mine have always been the perfect passes that he made in crunch time. Whether it’s been to Steve Kerr or to John Paxson, [it was amazing] for them to catch it in absolute rhythm [and while] wide open – [because] he draws so much attention. Obviously the faith too, that he had in his teammates, to be able to knock down certain shots. John Paxson and Steve Kerr were the examples.
“I remember this because me and a close friend, when I was growing up, used to re-enact these whole tournaments. I used to be John Paxson or Steve Kerr, and he used to be Michael Jordan. We used to re-enact this over and over again until we nailed it.”
On Australian basketball
Mills firstly praised compatriot Ben Simmons. The 6'10 point guard hasn't suited up for the Boomers since 2013, and sounds like he has recovered and is good form (via ESPN's Jackie MacMullan), so Mills is understandably excited at the prospect of running off him. Given Mills' off-ball three-point marksmanship, Simmons' playmaking could bring out the best in him.
"I really look forward to playing with Ben Simmons. He’s obviously the first Australian NBA All-Star. There’s obviously a sense of passing on the torch, as it relates to the Australian national team," Mills said.
One player who has been alongside Mills since the early days is Joe Ingles. Ingles has suited up next to "Patty Thrills" at three Olympics and two World Championship events, over a twelve year span. It comes as little surprise that the two veteran Boomers are close, given that their careers have run in parallel. Mills elaborated on their relationship, and how it has translated to a Western Conference rivalry in the NBA, between his Spurs team and Ingles' Jazz outfit.
"The player that I like to play against is Joe Ingles. I really love beating up on Joe and the Jazz – it’s always good battles. But a fun fact about Joe – the majority of guys got their own rooms last year the World Cup, and me and Joe were roommates the whole time."
At the beginning of the 2019-20 season, there were nine Australians playing in the NBA. This is a far cry from the mid-2000s, when it was virtually Andrew Bogut flying the flag on his own. Mills expressed his excitement over the success of Australia's basketball exports, but also acknowledged that there is more work to be done. As an Aboriginal Australian and a Torres Strait Islander, Mills is passionate about promoting grassroots Indigenous basketball. He expressed a desire to see more Indigenous Australians following in his footsteps and suiting up for the Boomers.
"I’m very excited obviously, for all Aussie players that get the opportunity to play in the NBA. But, it’s also a great reminder of how far we still have to come in terms of Indigenous players having opportunities and pathways to be able to play at the elite level. The fact that there are only three Indigenous Australians that have played for Australia at Olympics and World Championships [shows we can do better]," the Boomers stalwart said.
Of those three Indigenous players Mills is referring to, his uncle Danny Morseu actually came directly before him. Morseu was a prominent NBL player in the 1980s, and later earned a place in the league's hall of fame. He represented Australia at tournaments such as the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games, while winning three NBL championships with the St Kilda Saints twice (1979, 1980) and the Brisbane Bullets in 1987.
"I’m the third, and the one before me was my uncle, probably about 30-odd years before me. That tells me we still have a lot of work to do in that space. But, I’m excited to put in the work and be able to create these opportunities and pathways for Indigenous excellence within basketball – especially in Australia," Mills added.
Off the court, Mills made the most of his internet presence in the wake of Australia's bushfires. In response to the raging fires, he dedicated his social media platforms towards raising awareness for the devastation down under. The Spurs veteran then visited bushfire-affected communities during the All-Star break, a time when many players rest and recharge. Mills has proven to be a true role model both on and off the court.
“As some of you know, a few months ago I went back to Australia to help those affected by the wildfires. We built solar water panels, wildlife enclosures [and] spent time talking to locals of communities. But, one of my favourite moments I would say, was when we visited a local community who showed us how the wildfires can be prevented, and how the land can nourish and grow if managed and maintained the right way. To me, Earth day is every day, and I’m pumped to be able to keep working on rebuilding Australia,” the 31 year old recounted.
On life in San Antonio
Patty Mills is currently the longest-tenured Spur, having been with the team for over eight years. He has watched the organisation transition from the big three of Parker, Duncan and Ginobili to a new era with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Story: How Patty Mills rode the rollercoaster and kept his Spurs afloat as San Antonio's spiritual leader
When asked what the San Antonio community means to him, Mills replied:
"Really the world. [The] number one [thing] has got to be just being accepted. [I’m] really grateful for how San Antonio’s community has accepted Alyssa and I. Obviously [despite] me having a funny accent I guess, or a different accent, and being from the other side of the world, they have really welcomed both of us and made us feel [like] a part of the family. It’s a large city, San Antonio. [But it’s also] a large city that feels like a small community. It’s examples like HEB and the San Antonio FoodBank that are the reasons for being able to feel like the community is so tight – so [I am] very fortunate that way."
Mills also paid tribute to former teammate Manu Ginóbili, who mentored him throughout his time in San Antonio. The Canberra native has previously described Ginóbili as "one of, if not the, closest friend" he has had in the NBA. Ginóbili and Mills won a championship together in 2014, when the Spurs dispatched the Miami Heat in five games.
"I really wish every young athlete had the opportunity to learn from Manu. He has really been an unbelievable role model for me especially. It’s hard to think of just one [piece of advice], [as] he’s taught me so much. Manu has really taught me how to be curious, [and] to be a life-long learner. He has taught me to put selflessness over ego, and how to have empathy for others that are in less fortunate situations than what we are [in], here in the NBA. Manu is very knowledgeable about many things and I think curiosity is the reason for that," Mills explained.
When asked to name the most memorable moment of his career, Mills unsurprisingly pointed to the 2014 NBA Finals, where he won a championship ring together with fellow Boomer Aron Baynes. The Spurs washed away the pain of their 2013 defeat with a comprehensive 4-1 victory over a LeBron James-led Miami heat squad. Mills was one of the standout players in Game 5, scoring 17 points off the bench.
"I’m fortunate enough to have many [remarkable moments] to choose from, but the first one that comes to mind is being able to find my mum and [wife] Alyssa throughout the swarm of people on court after the 2014 NBA finals. And then, popping up and mum taking her very first selfie. And I had no idea that she even knew what a selfie was, so that was a really cool [and] special moment for me," Mills recalled.
The Boomers guard also mentioned his first Olympics, where he debuted as a fresh-faced 20 year old in 2008. Mills, who was known as "Patrick" rather than "Patty" in those days, made a name for himself on the world stage. The fleet-footed point guard dropped 20 points against the American "Redeem" team featuring players such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James - not bad for a college basketball player who was yet to be drafted into the NBA.
"The other one, definitely on the same level, is the 2008 Beijing Olympics – when I had the opportunity to walk out for the opening ceremony. Hearing the roar from my Australian athletes first, and then the roar of the crowd as we walked out onto the track – as the announcer called out Australia – [was amazing]. Walking behind the flag bearer, it’s an unbelievable feeling [and] a powerful feeling that I’ll never take for granted," Mills said.
Mills could well be Australia's flag bearer at the next Olympics. He has been a pillar of consistency for the Boomers over the past decade, and few would be more deserving of the honour. In his fourth Olympic games, Mills will be searching for that elusive medal, which Australia narrowly missed out on in 2016. Already a Boomers legend, Mills would be a fine choice to follow in the footsteps of Lauren Jackson and Andrew Gaze.