Since the gentleman's game of Basketball first washed onto our fine shores in the 1900s, only a very select few Aussies have proven themselves worthy of its ultimate title. Jersey-clad giants and perimeter punishers from the Great Southern Land have tried and failed over decades, but in a time where hoop dreams are larger then the pastime itself, one indigenous kid from Canberra proved to a nation, and the world, what it truly means to be Australian. With special thanks to Foot Locker, we welcome home our newest champion of the hardwood, Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs 2014 NBA Championship team. Patty and fellow Aussie and Spurs teammate Aron Baynes were in town on the Spurs' world trophy tour, and we got to hear Patty speak to the press at a conference on Monday.
You're fresh off NBA Championship victory celebrations, how does it feel to be back in Australia?
As soon as I stepped off the plane and got that fresh Melbourne air, I knew it was good to be home. It has been a hectic last four weeks since the championship, so the celebrations are still sinking in. I can't wait to spend this time with my family and the rest of the country, being able to share this experience with them.
Celebrated a little too hard did we Patty? You're all strapped up?
Unfortunately I tore my right rotator cuff in my shoulder. I was having problems with that shoulder all year – it's a bummer – but I am glad it was after the season and not during. I'm looking at roughly six to seven months recovery after the surgery, so two weeks post-operations and a lot more to go.
How worried were you about your shoulder affecting your bargaining power being a free agent?
Very worried actually! This was going to be my first chance to go through the whole two weeks of free agency experience, then the shoulder came up. I knew the shoulder would effect my opportunities, I just was not sure how much. Now the deal is done and I couldn't be happier to be heading back to San Antonio with the guys and spending the next three years there.
A career switch from AFL to basketball, come-ups through the AIS, 55th pick overall in the 2009 NBA Draft to the Portland Trail Blazers, playing with the Melbourne Tigers during the 2012 NBA lockout, a brief stint in China, two Olympic tenures with the Boomers and now a Championship ring with the San Antonio Spurs. It has been a roller-coaster ride in such a short time to say the least?
It truly has been. When you lay it out like that, it goes back quite a number of years, but next month I will be 26 years old and I feel I have come a long way. To know the experiences I've had have really helped me to grow and mature, but knowing I will be heading back to San Antonio for my 6th year in the NBA – it still blows your mind to see how quickly everything has gone.
Beijing and London, you have had two Olympic stints with the boomers, these feats help build experience and that takes the fear out of a lot of things, but have you ever felt daunted walking out into the spotlight?
No, I don't think so. The way I was brought up and taught to manage situations, you can't have that doubt or that type of mindset. If you do you're already behind the 8-ball, you're already losing, especially in the NBA. Coming up against legends like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and then there is this little indigenous kid stepping on the court like, 'Theres a threat?' A fearless attitude is what I have learned.
You're only 6 foot and 80 kilos, how fearless are we talking?
Compared to the monsters of the NBA you're only a little fella...
I have learned to accept that, I am one of the shortest in the league and Aron Baynes is one of the biggest in the league, but it's great, Aron has been able to learn from some of the best big guys in the league, like Tim Duncan, an incredible role model to learn from, and myself with Tony Parker. Being the height that you are, you gotta find some other strengths to make up for being short, which in my case is speed and my ability and to use that speed to our advantage.
We know you're quite handy with the rock yourself, but who in the NBA has been the toughest opponent you have come across?
I gotta say Steve Nash. Obviously he's a veteran of the game, but when I played him for the first time it was crazy, he is just so smart with the ball and on the court, and plays such a high calibre basketball - the way he plays, you can't help but want to be like him. The other person would be Tony Parker, I go up against him everyday in training at practice, and run side by side with him in games, he has helped me as a person and helped me develop my game a lot.
Only four Australians have achieved NBA ring status, Luc Longley with Michael Jordan's fabled Chicago Bulls, perimeter-punisher Andrew Gaze, and now Aron Baynes and yourself. You're part of a very small elite group, how does that feel?
Yeah, I definitely feel that is why it's such a big deal. Everyone in Australia realises how big a deal it is, Luc Longley's last was in '98, he won three, Gazey was next in '99 – you can see the long drought of Aussies getting that opportunity and now me and Aron can say we are a part of that history aswell. I can say that hopefully it's only the beginning, with young rising talents like Dante Exum and Cameron Bairstow now entering the league, hopefully we will see many more of these opportunities.
You're among only a small handful of indigenous Australians to have represented in the big time, and you are the first Torres Straight Islander to do so – a proud moment, we can only imagine?
First and foremost it was incredibly exciting. When you talk about my background it is by far the thing that comes first. My family and my heritage, and getting the ability to represent both of those on such an elite and international stage, it was a very special moment for me, to carry the Torres Straight Island flag onto that stage – and of course Baynes carrying the Aussie flag – it was very special for him too.
You're a trail blazer for the indigenous people, if you had a message for the young guys what would it be?
Make the most of the opportunities, not everything is handed to you on a silver platter, you get a small opportunity and you gotta make it mean something. Keep the passion, that is something that has really helped me. Keep the passion of what you want to achieve and how you're going to achieve it.
The Larry O'Brien trophy, this is the first time the illustrious trophy has ventured Down Under and we understand it was something the Spurs were very prominent in making happen, how did it all come about?
Yeah it wasn't easy, it has never been done before. It was actually talked about between the players and we managed to get it done. It is a chance for us to say thank you to our fans and the entire country for their ongoing support throughout the season.
Just how great was the Australian response throughout the season, and more-so during the Finals?
The support throughout the season has blown my mind. When I saw the all Instragrams, Tweets, Facebook posts, I got a huge kick out of it, which makes this trophy tour even more important for us to say thank you to Australia and our fans.
There is a lot of love for Patty Mills Down Under, that is for sure. Does this mean more interaction between the NBA and Australia? Maybe finally we can get that NBA exhibition game we have all been waiting for?
That's the next part. This is a great chance for us to share the NBA experience with the rest of the country. It's important for the country, but more so it's extremely important for the basketball community here and the NBA. Hopefully we can get it done soon.
Last but not least, you are worshiped by thousands of adoring fans here in Australia, any last words for them?
I just want each and every one of them to have an experience, a connection. Whether it's a 'Hello', a handshake – or high five, at the moment – hopefully that memory will last and inspire for a long time to come. As a kid when I was in the same situation, AFL or basketball players, I remember those inspirational interactions of my own vividly. Just connecting with a hero, a smile or something closer. I just want to leave a special impact.
You can catch Patty and Aron touring the Larry O'Brien trophy across the Great Southern Land when they hit a string of location across OZ over the next week. Find out the details here.