When Patty Mills etched his name in the history books at Rio 2016 as the first indigenous man to play basketball for Australia at three Olympic Games, he also reinforced his position as a role model and inspiration on and off the court.
Mills’ father Benny was a Torres Strait Islander from Northern Queensland and his mother Yvonne an Aboriginal from Southern Australia, and he has long blazed a trail.
He is an NBA Championship winner on the court with the San Antonio Spurs and the recipient of an abundance of awards off it, recognising not only his sporting achievements but also his work in creating awareness of his indigenous heritage.
Mills is the subject of an episode of the Olympic Channel’s Before They Were Superstars, in which the then 18-year-old spoke of how his indigenous heritage informed his approach.
He said: “I’m very proud to be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander as well. I take that into basketball when I play, representing the indigenous community in Australia.”
Mills grew up in Canberra and started playing at four for the Shadows, a multi-cultural and indigenous club established by his parents, where his talent was nurtured.
While still at junior school he listed his goals – to make it to the Australian Institute of Sport, play for the Australia Under-19 team, compete at the Olympic Games and join the NBA.
He had already ticked off the first two but said of his remaining ambitions: “Whether I make it or not is something I have been motivated for for a while now, and I am going to push myself harder each day to make that.
“If I don’t, at least I can say I’ve tried my hardest to get there, but we’ll see what happens.”
He was the third indigenous man to play for Australia, following in the footsteps of his uncle Danny Morseu, when he made his debut in 2007.
A stellar season at St Mary’s College, California, secured a spot on the team for Beijing where he led the Boomers in scoring, including 20 points against a USA side featuring the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, as they finished seventh.
He fulfilled another dream in 2009 when he was drafted into the NBA with a two-year spell at the Portland Trailblazers.
Mills moved on to the San Antonio Spurs in 2012 before starring at the Olympic Games in London, where he led the tournament in points per game (21.2), ahead of the USA’s Kevin Durant, as the Boomers again finished seventh.
His trajectory was going ever higher, and in 2014 he became the first indigenous Australian to win the NBA Championship.
He missed out on an Olympic medal by the narrowest of margins at Rio 2016, where Spain made two free throws with five seconds remaining to win the bronze medal play-off match 89-88, as Australia finished a heartbreaking fourth.