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NBA's Patty Mills gives young Indigenous Australians a league of their own

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Our next guest won an NBA title in 2014 and led his national team to an Olympic medal in Tokyo.

PATTY MILLS: I like to introduce myself as Patty Mills, Gugada Nagyagaou (ph) and a Dauer Meriam man of Australia.

FLORIDO: Patty Mills is a point guard now on the Brooklyn Nets and an Indigenous Australian.

MILLS: You have the Aboriginal people and you have the Torres Strait Island people, and I'm very proud to be both of those.

FLORIDO: Basketball also runs in the family. His uncle, Danny Morseu, represented Australia twice at the Olympics, and his parents started a basketball club for Indigenous kids in the capital city of Canberra. Naturally, Patty Mills came up through that club.

MILLS: And that turned into, you know, a much deeper deal.

FLORIDO: Meaning he's now in his 13th season in the NBA, but we wanted to talk to him about the basketball league he started in 2020 for Indigenous kids across his country. Indigenous Basketball Australia operates in eight regions and hosts a tournament for the best players from each one. When we spoke this week, he said he'd always wanted to build on what his parents had started. He just thought it would be after his professional career was over.

MILLS: And then in 2020, something awful happened, and that was COVID, which left a lot of people in lockdown and quarantine, so me and my wife dragged the mattress out into the lounge room and got to work to create Indigenous Basketball Australia.

FLORIDO: A lot of people used the downtime from the pandemic to, you know, do a little more cooking or finally remodel the bathroom. You decided to create a basketball league for your people.

MILLS: Yeah, well, it's obviously something that's close to my heart - something that I'm very passionate about. I'm the third Indigenous Australian to represent Australia, and that was 30 years after my uncle, Danny Morseu, represented Australia. So I guess my biggest fear is that there's another 30 years, you know, or so before the next Indigenous Australian to represent Australia at those major events. So I just think it's one of those things - right? - where it ends up coming easy to you when, you know, the organization is founded on culture, you know? We celebrate culture in everything we do, so we have a lot of programs, from inspiration and motivational sessions being able to teach these kids about identity, about health and wellness, about school, about their culture and, even this year, they've learnt a song and a dance from their region in their language before they pick up a basketball. So we try to really, you know, drive identity and culture within these kids, obviously using basketball as a vehicle.

FLORIDO: You know, I've got to ask - how do you manage juggling this with your day job as a professional basketball player in the NBA from halfway across the world?

MILLS: Yeah, it's obviously not usual, I think, but my days off have turned into pretty full days at IBA. You know, we finish a game and get home about 10, 10:30, 11 o'clock at night, and that's prime time to have a chat with someone back in Australia. But at the end of the day, this work with IBA fuels my fire and fuels my passion to continue to do what I'm doing on the basketball court and continue to, you know, want to achieve more, specifically for these kids - you know, my people.

FLORIDO: Have you actually managed to attend one of these youth tournaments in person, or has your time in the NBA made that hard to do?

MILLS: That's a great question, mate. IBA was created in 2020. And we are now in our third year, and I have yet to attend one single IBA event.

FLORIDO: Wow.

MILLS: So everything's run from across the world, but hopefully one day I'll be able to get there and, you know, be present.

FLORIDO: Well, a big part of your goal with the league seems to be to give, you know, kids an opportunity to participate in youth sports and to find community and culture in basketball, but I imagine you also want to develop players with potential to go professional. What do you want this league to do for those kids who've got huge talent that maybe you didn't have access to yourself as a kid?

MILLS: Yeah, definitely, mate. There's a lot of deep layers that we're targeting with IBA. And so, you know, our kids being involved in the program already eliminates, you know, a lot of problems that we have with our kids and community - so getting them in a safe environment that's free from discrimination, letting them dream, letting them understand that goal-setting is a thing and that things can come true. This is much bigger than just basketball. This is about their identity to be able to live in a modern world in Australia as a young Aboriginal or as a young Torres Strait Islander kid, but also the thought of an opportunity to have them play basketball for Australia at a home Olympic Games - Brisbane, 2032, home crowd cheering for them. You know, that's something that really, probably, excites me more than myself playing for Australia - is just, you know, having that opportunity for kids. So, you know, we're just providing an opportunity in hopes that that dream can come true.

FLORIDO: Well, for now, Patty Mills is a point guard for the Brooklyn Nets and a founder of Indigenous Basketball Australia. Patty Mills, thanks for coming on to talk with us about your project.

MILLS: Appreciate it, mate. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.