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#PattyForPM ... how Patty Mills has become a national symbol of unity Down Under

United States v Australia Men’s Basketball - Olympics: Day 13 Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

There is Down Under a hashtag that shows just how popular, how transcendent, Patty Mills is in his native land of Australia.

#PattyForPM ... as in Patty Mills for Prime Minister. The first Aboriginal to carry his nation’s flag into an Olympic stadium and the captain/leader of Australia’s national team who brought home the bronze in Tokyo, Mills popularity is raging from his home in the Torres Islands in the far north to Tasmania in the deep south.

In an article for the Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Konrad Marshall quotes Mills as saying he has no interest in political life but retains his right to use his voice on the rights to indigenous people and other broader issues. And if that means, talking politics, he’s game for that too.

“I don’t,” he told Marshall of any political ambitions. “Nor do I see any of the things I do as political activism. It’s just what my family have always done. It’s living culture...

“If there’s something I believe is right, I back myself,” he added, defining that culture, then discussing social justice. “We’re not America. We are our own country, and we have our own issues. Progress has been made, but we’ve got so far to go.”

Culture is huge for Mills, whether it’s team or national or personal. His wife, Alyssa — who he met when both were student/athletes as St. Mary’s College in California — says they practice the culture of greater Oceania daily in their Hawaiian home through food, music and art.

That connection can span continents. Mills is getting fan mail from kids in Australia adorned with the Aboriginal and Torres Islands flags. Mills told Marshall that can move him to tears of endearment. He is, after all, a “bridge between black and white” in Australia — which has its own history of racist atrocities — as Marshall argues.

“It was like Patty was playing for something greater. For reconciliation.” Marshall quotes Nova Peris, an Australian Aboriginal political leader and former athlete, talking about the bronze medal game when he scored 42 points. “No one can lay a finger on him,” she says. “It’s almost like, if you’re gonna box on with Patty, you’ve gotta box on with us, too.”

In his interview, Marshall repeats the line to Mills, essentially asking if his ability to transcend so much of Australia’s history brings some political possibility, some, yes, “cultural” significance that he is what the country would like to be. Mills responds with some “guidance” for the reporter.

“Well, when you’re tapping that around on the page, let me guide you,” Mills said. “I’ve always been about building this unifying thing. And maybe, for me, basketball is a way of softly bringing down all these barriers, that careful way of getting to the place we all want to be.

“We don’t need to create anything new. We just need to value that which already exists and persists. We need to pay attention. The wind is shifting. The rains are coming. The signs are there.”

Mills isn’t afraid to talk about his adopted land either, the one stretching from his work in Brooklyn to his home near Honolulu. He spoke to Marshall about the George Floyd murder in mid-2020 ... and white people’s reactions.

“This is what I’ll say,” he told the Age writer. “I was more shocked at the reaction than the act itself. I remember thinking, ‘Why is this one making you people realize this stuff? Is it because of the camera? His voice?’ And people are calling me and saying, ‘I see now!’ and there’s me wondering why they haven’t seen for years and years.”

In fact, the #PattyForPM hashtag began as an outgrowth of those times. Australia had its own Black Lives Matters protests and Australia’s prime minister admonished those who would import social causes. He claimed Australia never had slavery unlike the U.S., which can be challenged historically. Mills responded with a Tweet...

Three weeks later, Mills announced he was donating his entire $1.5 million pay from the Orlando “bubble” to Black Lives Matter Australia and two other social justice groups, Black Deaths in Custody and The We Got You campaign. Not just words.

Whether Mills would ever decides to enter politics is an open question. He certainly could. He’s currently 33 and on a two-year, taxpayers MLE deal. He has plenty of time. As Marshall explains, Mills also has an inheritance, a legacy, a destiny, maybe? He is the grand-nephew of Eddie Mabo, one of the Aboriginal nation’s great civil rights advocates. As he says, activism is a family culture.

Mills, of course, will be called on to use those leadership skills when the Nets take the floor, starting Sunday in Los Angeles. There seems little doubt that will speak his mind. It’s who he is and no doubt a big reason Sean Marks went after him. Culture loves culture, you might say.