During lockdown in the US last year, Indigenous Australian basketball superstar Patty Mills came up with an idea: a youth basketball program that would give Indigenous kids not just the chance to play ball and perhaps find sporting success, but also the confidence to achieve their goals in other fields, and be proud of who they are.
The result was Indigenous Basketball Australia (IBA), a not-for-profit organisation that offers grassroots programs for Indigenous kids across Australia, a youth league, pathways to elite basketball, and pre-game motivational sessions that cover anything from traditional knowledge to wellbeing.
“Basketball as a sport has brought me happiness, joy, education and a real sense of purpose and perspective,” says 33-year-old Mills, who has competed in four Olympics for the Boomers and is about to embark on his 13th season in America’s NBA. “It has changed my world and shaped the person I am today.
“However, not everyone has had the same opportunities as I have, which is why I’m so dedicated to using my platform, my profile and my voice to develop innovative programs like IBA, which will allow my people to really own their story.”
Impact and purpose
This is not the first time Mills has stepped up off court. His previous activism efforts include raising money for Australian flood relief, writing a series of children’s books about overcoming adversity, and establishing the Team Mills Foundation, which backs projects around the world from environmental initiatives to women’s shelters.
After marrying American model Alyssa Levesque in 2019, instead of going on honeymoon, he went to Walgett, in Outback NSW (with his wife’s blessing), to help deliver clean drinking water to community residents.
And in 2020 he donated his entire salary, of almost $1.5 million, from the post-COVID NBA restart, to Australian social justice causes: Black Lives Matter Australia, Black Deaths in Custody and the We Got You campaign, which aims to eliminate racism in Australian sport.
“I’ve found a way to live a life of impact and purpose,” he told the ABC.
Proud of his identity
Success didn’t come easy for Mills. The son of an Aboriginal father and a Torres Strait Islander mother who was a member of the Stolen Generation, Mills reports suffering terrible racism growing up in Canberra.
He built an emotional shield to protect himself, and with the support of his parents, reached the very top of the game, winning an NBA championship in 2014 and, in Tokyo this July, becoming the first Indigenous Australian Olympic flagbearer.
He went on to lead the Boomers to their first men’s basketball’s Olympic medal: a bronze, which he hand-delivered to his parents after the Games. “There was a lot of emotions, a lot of tears, as you can imagine,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Throughout his journey, Mills has been proud of his identity. And he is determined to instil the same pride in the young people he is helping today.