Patty Mills and San Antonio Spurs one win away from NBA championship dream


He's the Canberra kid in a world of millionaires, rock stars and private jets, but Patrick Mills says nothing can distract him from a chance to realise his childhood dream of winning an NBA championship.

Humble San Antonio Spurs point guard Mills is on the verge of the biggest prize in world basketball. The Spurs will be crowned NBA champions if they beat the Miami Heat on Monday morning Australian time.

They are two teams with players worth a combined $US145 million ($A154.22 million) and some individual pay packets which dwarf NRL and AFL salary caps.

Mills, 25, will become the first indigenous Australian to win an NBA title and just the third Australian to achieve the feat if the Spurs win, following in the footsteps of greats Luc Longley and Andrew Gaze.

It's a long way from the Tuggeranong basketball stadium where Mills cut his teeth, and even further from the homemade basketball ring grandfather Sammy made on Thursday Island when Mills was two years old.

The former Marist College student rubbed shoulders with Beatles rock legend Paul McCartney in a hotel gym last year, but in a league known for its exuberant lifestyle of megabucks and celebrities as much as basketball Mills says he only has one focus.

"People see how much money and the planes, the cars and all of that, but you don't buy into that here in San Antonio," Mills told The Canberra Times on Sunday.

"I'm still learning different things and how the NBA operates. I'm so lucky to be in San Antonio, where it seems like it's separate from the NBA.

"Everything outside of basketball is just a sideshow. There's a mental strain, physical strain - and that's huge. There's nothing like it. But all the pain and stress you go through to get here is worth it."

Mills changed his off-court life in the off-season, hiring a personal chef, cutting out pleasures like strawberry milk, Vegemite, cheese and pasta to get him in the best shape of his career.

It's paid dividends, with NBA greats, commentators, coaches and experts labelling Mills one of the decisive factors in the Spurs' 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the superstar-laden Heat.

But the aspect Mills is most proud of is awareness that has been created about his family history and tradition.

Mills' mum Yvonne was part of the Stolen Generation. His dad Benny is a Torres Strait Islander. Yvonne, Benny and Mills' uncle Danny Morseu - the first Torres Strait Islander to represent Australia in basketball at an Olympics - flew to the US for the finals series.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich shocked Mills when he gathered the team to recognise the importance of Mabo Day on June 3, the date marking the 1992 decision to award land rights to indigenous Australians after the late Eddie Mabo's lengthy court battle.

Mills wants to be a role model for young indigenous Australians.

"To do what I love the most - play basketball - and do it on such a big stage, making a contribution, but also representing Australia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people adds to how special and how rare this is," Mills said.

"This opportunity doesn't come around too often. To get exposure for indigenous Australians is huge for me. To be a little kid dreaming of the Olympic Games and NBA finals ... I couldn't have achieved anything without mum and dad."

Game five is in San Antonio and the Spurs will be champions if they win it.

Mills is playing alongside a trio of future hall of famers in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

He's lining up against LeBron James - regarded as the world's best player - and an all-star Heat roster.

Twelve months ago MIlls was a virtual spectator as the Heat beat the Spurs in the championship series. He was better known for his towel-waving exploits from the bench, which earned him a cult following because of his enthusiastic support for his teammates.

He played just 14 minutes in the series last year. This time he's already been on court for 58 minutes, scoring a career-best 14 points in game four and rated by experts as one of the key factors in the Spurs' title chances.

"When Patty came to camp this year all trim, very aggressive, very focused, he made us notice him and that he wanted to be part of this and didn't want to be on the bench," Popovich said.

The fact Mills is one win away from achieving a rare feat is not lost on him.

"But outside thoughts can't come into your mind. We haven't done anything - we know what we want to achieve and we don't want anything to take this chance away from us," Mills said.


Game five: San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat at 10am (AEST). TV time: Live on ESPN. The Hellenic clubs in Civic and Woden will show game five live on big screens.

This story Patty Mills and San Antonio Spurs one win away from NBA championship dream first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.