Patty Mills: A role model shooting for the stars

I love basketball. I grew up in the mecca of B-Ball — West Philadelphia – where we played the game all year round, even in the winter when it was snowing. In fact, we used to shovel the snow off the courts so we could play on the concrete surface. Okay, maybe not in a blizzard, but once the snow stopped coming down, and the sun came out, we started playing half court.
Those were the days of Wilt Chamberlain, Tom Gola, Hal Lear, Guy Rodgers, Paul Arizin, Walt Hazzard, Neil Johnston, Herb Magee and Jimmy Lyneham – all names most Philadelphians of a certain age would know. Basketball players who could shoot and run and loved the game. It meant teenagers like me would stand in their concrete backyards and dribble the ball with the left hand, then the right, and when they got to a court, they would shoot layups, driving into the basket, with their right hands, then their left. In another hotbed of basketball, the Midwest, former New York Knicks star and US Senator, Bill Bradley, practised each day as a teenager in Crystal City, Missouri, shooting hundreds of free throws. It was a labour of love.
When I first came to Sydney in the early 1970s, basketball wasn’t a big sport. There was no National Basketball League (NBL), and the main games in Sydney were played in Alexandria Stadium … a glorified tin shed, hot as hell in summer and cold in winter (not as cold as a Philly winter, of course). I played basketball there and at Mitchell High School in Parramatta. The conditions weren’t great and you had to chip in a couple of bucks (it’s hard to remember as it was 40 years ago!) to pay the referees. But it was fun and the legendary Ken Cole was leading the way for the expansion of basketball from a national club championship to the NBL, from his base in South Australia. He played for four different State teams from 1961 to 1972 and was an Olympian at the 1964 Melbourne Games.
In 1979, the NBL was launched and basketball has been on a roller coaster ride ever since, with its shares of ups and downs. There have been great players like Andrew Gaze and Luc Longley, both of whom also starred in the US where the sport still reigns supreme, even with the rise of European teams in recent decades. One player who also made a name for himself was Danny Morseu, the first Torres Strait Islander to represent Australia at the Olympic Games in 1980 and 1984.
And this week, he’s known as Patty Mills’ uncle. Yes, the same Patty Mills who helped the San Antonio Spurs win the National Basketball Association (NBA) Championship this week, scoring 17 points in 18 minutes against the 2013 title holders, Miami Heat. Morseu was one of Mills’ basketball mentors and was in San Antonio to watch his nephew take on players like LeBron James, acknowledged as probably the best basketball player in the world today. Patty Mills was draped in the Torres Strait Islander flag after the game, along with another Australian, Aron Baynes, also a Spurs player, celebrating with an Aussie flag over his shoulder.
Patty Mills and his family are great role models for Indigenous Australians. His mother Yvonne was a member of the Stolen Generation, taken from her brother and three sisters at the age of 2 and a half and forced to live with a white family, thinking her mother had abandoned her. But she didn’t find out until 1997 that her mother always wanted her children back. Patty’s father, Benny, also a Torres Strait Islander, started a basketball club in Canberra for Indigenous kids who couldn’t afford to play with a regular team.
Benny and Yvonne taught Patty to stand up against racism when he was growing up in Canberra, attending Marist College before getting a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport. Benny told The Australian’s Will Swanton this week: “We told him, the best thing you can do is walk away.”
When you see Patty Mills play basketball, you can tell his days of walking away are over. The photo above shows him scoring a layup against LeBron James, and his all-out hustle has endeared him to his team, his fans and his coach, Gregg Popovich, who paid him this compliment after the championship game: “He’s a special guy. His energy has been important to us all year long. He’s a real significant reason why we got to the finals. Obviously he’s also played well in the finals but the energy, that team sense that he has, it has been infectious.”
Mills’ team play fits in well with the Spurs. They remind me of the New York Knicks’ teams of the early 1970s, coached by Red Holzman and starring Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere and Dick Barnett, with several other lesser known hoopsters who played the role of Patty Mills – coming on as substitutes and busting the game wide open. There is a wonderful book about the Knicks in that period called When the Garden was Eden, written by Harvey Araton. I’ve written about it in a previous post but if you are a big fan of basketball I’d suggest you get the book from Amazon or somewhere in the States. It’s also about racism and social unrest in the late sixties and seventies, and how basketball helped change the face of racial relations in the Big Apple and the US in those tumultuous times.
I’m hoping the same thing will happen here where we also suffer from racism. I know young Indigenous athletes tend to play Australian Rules, and Sydney Swans coach John Longmire said he tried to get Patty Mills to switch from basketball a number of years ago to play for the Swans, but admitted “it’s fair to say he made the right decision.” And there are certainly two strong Indigenous role models on the Swans: Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, and Aussie Rules superstar, Buddy Franklin.
But Patty Mills is now a free agent, and is likely to get a lot more than the $2.2 million he earned this year with the San Antonio Spurs. The New York Knicks are one of four teams who’d like to have Mills as a starting point guard, and he would be a perfect match for Madison Square Garden – the famous home of basketball in Manhattan. And, as we all know, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!
Yet, I have seen a number of players just go for the money, and regret not staying with a team like the Spurs, with a great coach, teammates like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and loving fans. Whatever his decision, though, 25-year-old Patty Mills has a bright future.
And basketball in Australia has a special role model to attract young Indigenous athletes to shoot for the hoops … and the stars.

2 thoughts on “Patty Mills: A role model shooting for the stars

    • Thanks, Adam. I liked your post on Putin and the follow up from your friend. Abbott has been better as a world leader this week than he was as a PM. But I think Vladimir still has a few aces up his sleeve. After all he did run the KBG! Fingers crossed Tony wins!

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