Patty Mills may have just signed a new $65 million deal to play in the NBA, but he is quick to point out “I was still able to catch those crayfish” on a recent visit home to the Torres Strait Islands.
The Australian basketball star has found enormous success in his 10 years in the US and has become a key figure in the powerful San Antonio Spurs line-up.
But despite the fame and fortune he has found abroad, a consistent theme for the 28-year-old has been the promotion of, and commitment to, his Indigenous roots.
“The culture is very different and something you’ve really got to try to adapt to,” he told ABC News Breakfast of making the move.
“Growing up it was a certain way. It was a culture, it was mum and dad, it was a comfortable fitting.
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“Then you take yourself out of that and you’re away from that for so long and a long way away and you’ve just got to try to find ways to make it work.”
The three-time Olympian was named NAIDOC person of the year and this week was appointed an ambassador for the upcoming Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast – although his NBA commitments prevent him from playing.
Mills has spent the NBA off-season back in Australia and went to the Torres Strait Islands for a week earlier this month.
He said it was a chance to relax and reflect while doing some fishing and brushing up on his traditional dance skills.
“It allowed me to keep continuing to learn my culture and lessons that I was taught when I was brought up,” he said.
“It’s important for me to keep touching back with that every now and again, when I can, when I have the time.”
Inspiring a new generation of kids
Mills is now touring Australia to launch a series of kids books called Game Day, which follow the adventures of a young character named Patty who is trying his hand at sport.
He said it was an idea he naturally gravitated to as it helped him connect with and inspire kids back home.
“I think doing a book series can connect to them on a deeper level, compared to meeting someone at a basketball camp for an hour or two,” he said.
“It’s kind of based on my upbringing and what I learned as a kid … I think it teaches a lot of lessons and values.”
As a child, Mills looked up to star athlete Cathy Freeman and was inspired as much by what she did off the track as on.
“She was a role model for me for many different things,” he said.
“She’s a very proud Aboriginal woman and that was the thing that caught my eye first and then all of her success, I guess, on the track, came afterwards.”
It’s this kind of attitude he hopes his books will instil in kids who now look up to him.
“The main messages here are trying to encourage kids to make the most of the smallest opportunities and never give up,” he said.
“There’s a lot of challenges out there and adversities that little Patty goes through in the book and it’s important for kids to understand that.”