IN 25 years of commentating on sport in Canberra, I reckon I’ve conducted at least a couple of thousand interviews with sportspeople in this city.While many were with the same people, I like to think I can remember most of them, despite sometimes being flat out recalling what I did last week let alone 20 odd years ago!
However, one interview I do remember well was with Patty Mills. I literally bumped into him at Canberra Airport in 2006 while waiting to speak to footballers of a code I can’t remember. He was heading to the US to take up a scholarship with St Mary’s in California.
We had spoken many times over the years, the first probably when he was awarded a basketball scholarship at the AIS while still a year 10 student at Marist College. Then again, it could have been when he was playing for the AIS and was called into the Boomers’ side as a 16 year old.
I profess, at that stage, I knew little of his background except that he was an exceptional basketballer. That airport conversation was the first time I gained an insight into his determination to succeed and from then on I took a greater interest in his career.
What has become clear in recent times is his strong sense of culture and family. In fact, if it wasn’t for his family, it’s fair to say we wouldn’t be eulogising over his remarkable performance in the NBA finals series.
His father, Benny, a Torres Strait Islander and his mother Yvonne, part of the Stolen Generation, have instilled a sense of self belief in Patty without being over the top. He says it gives him inner strength, helping him deal with issues such as racism and discrimination.
Benny and Yvonne made sure that Patty was immersed in sport. He played Australian Rules, Rugby League and broke many records competing for Woden in Little Athletics.
According to Benny, the multi-sport approach was simply part of the development process for the end game – basketball.
Benny and Yvonne started the Shadows Basketball Club more than 20 years ago to provide indigenous basketballers with an opportunity to play for a club in Canberra. As a four year old, Patty soaked up his surroundings and became part of the furniture.
As a 12 year old watching Cathy Freeman win gold in Sydney, Patty discovered the inspiration he needed to be a winner.
Apart from racism, which he often silenced by running rings around his opponents, Patty has faced other obstacles.
Last year with the Spurs he was very much a bench player, but this year after being told by coach Gregg Popovich to lose some weight, Patty didn’t throw in the towel. He approached it as he has overcome previous hurdles and returned to Australia in the off season with a personal trainer who made sure he was in shape by the time he returned to Texas.
As the Spurs progressed through the finals, coach Popovich made it clear that Patty was no longer a bench warmer but had become a key player. He said Patty’s sense of team and energy was pivotal to their success in the toughest league in the world.
That he has a sense of “team” should come as no surprise when you consider what he has gone through to achieve his dream. The sight of Patty draped in the Torres Strait Islander flag celebrating with the Spurs indicates that he is not about to forget his heritage any time soon. It should give strength to us all.