Patty Mills, Winner of the 2021 Don Award

Kokatha, Naghiralgal and Dauareb-Meriam basketball player, Patty Mills has been awarded Australian sports' highest honour, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Don Award. The Indigenous NBA player and Co-captain of the Australian Boomers has become a true sporting icon, and this prestigious award recognises the incredible impact he has made through his sporting performance and positive influence on our nation (Basketball Australia, 2021). As the first basketballer to win the Don Award, Mills is a true inspiration to young Indigenous people and all Australians.

The Don Award

Patty Mills Don Award Don Award Winner, Patty Mills. Courtesy of SBS, 2021.

The Don Award, named in recognition of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame's inaugural Inductee Sir Donald Bradman, is considered Australian sport's highest honour. It is awarded annually to an Australian athlete or team who has most inspired the nation through performing exceedingly well in their sport and leading by example over the past year.

This year, Mills received a plethora of nominations for this award for his inspiring leadership on and off the court and his outstanding sporting achievements. It was this, and the determination that lead to the Boomers winning a bronze olympic medal at the Tokyo Olympics, that convinced the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Selection Committee to don Mills with the Don Award (Basketball Australia, 2021). In an interview with ABC News (2021), Mills talked about how he felt receiving the award: 

“I never set out to win awards like this. I go about my craft as a professional and learn ways to get better, trying to carry myself in a way that I think can inspire others. The honour isn’t necessarily about me, it’s about the impact on unity, identity, being proud of who you are and expressing that passionately.”

It was Sir Donald's son John Bradman (2021) that announced Mills' receiving of the award. In his speech, he talked of his father's belief in the power of sports to inspire and how Mills embodies this spirit:

“He’s not just a champion player, he’s a champion person, a leader, a star on and off the court, and most of all an inspiration to all of us.”

Australia's first Indigenous Olympic flag bearer

first Indigenous Olympic flag bearer Patty Mills first Indigenous Olympic flag-bearer. Courtesy of the Australian Olympic Committee, 2021.

Mills made history last year, becoming the first Indigenous Australian flag-bearer at the Tokyo Olympic Games' Opening Ceremony. While he carried the Australian Flag for the ceremony, he was also proud to showcase both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in his photos for the occasion. Through being a part of the ceremony, Mills took a step forward in Australia's troubled history, where recognition of Indigenous achievements and reconciliation has been missing (ABC News, 2021). 

Tokyo Olympics Boomers bronze medal Mills celebrates bronze win at the Tokyo Olympics. Photo by Kevin C. Cox, courtesy of Getty Images.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Mills Co-captained the Boomers team. Through his absolutely remarkable leadership skills and sportsmanship, it led the team to a bronze medal win for the Olympic basketball competition. The Australian team defeated Slovenia 107-93 in the bronze medal game, with Mills scoring 42 points (ABC News, 2021). It was this inspiring performance at the major global tournament that led to him being chosen for the 2021 Don Award. 

Early life and career

From a young age, Canberra-born Mills grew up living and breathing basketball. Ever since he started playing basketball for an Indigenous team that his parents run, Mills became known amongst his peers as being a steadfast and committed athlete. In high school, Mills started attending the Australian Institute of Sport, and by 2007 he was playing for the Australian men's basketball team. In the same year, he accepted a scholarship to play college basketball is the US for Saint Mary's College of California, where his performances were unparalleled to his fellow students. For the Beijing Olympics in 2008, he was selected for his first Olympics, leading the Australian Boomers to the quarter-finals (SAHOF, 2022).

Mills San Antonio Spurs Mills playing for the Spurs. Courtesy of NBA, 2021.

Just two years after moving to the US, Mills achieved every basketballer's dream of playing for the National Basketball Association (NBA). Through the NBA, Mills was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers, and in 2012 he went on to sign with the San Antonio Spurs under the legendary coach Gregg Popovich. He played with the team for 10 incredible seasons, winning the NBA championship in 2014 (SAHOF, 2022). It was in August 2021 that Mills made a change signing on with Brooklyn Nets (ABC News, 2021). Mills' career shows what an incredibly talented athlete he is, and how completely dedicated to basketball he has always been.

Giving back to community

basketball foundation for Indigenous youth Mills sets up foundation to help Indigenous youth. Courtesy of, 2020.

Despite having to move to the US for his career, Mills has remained very connected to his culture, family and the Australian Indigenous community as a whole. He has become well known for his long history of charity work and activism. After many years of giving to a number of different causes, Mills launched the non-profit Indigenous Basketball Australia (IBA) in 2020. IBA focusses on creating opportunities and pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth at a grassroots level. The non-profit facilitates community basketball competitions, national tournaments and development camps to help Indigenous youth progress into the Australian basketball system (IBA, 2022).

In the same year, amidst the growing Black Lives Matter movement, Mills announced that he would donate all of his 1.5 million NBA salary to social justice causes in Australia. In particular, he contributed money to the campaigns 'Stop Black Deaths in Custody' and 'We Got You' (Mamamia, 2021). The We Got You campaign is led by a group of Australia's biggest sports stars who pledged to stand in solidarity against racism and be a voice for change. Racism is something Mills has had to battle with throughout his career, and in an interview with ABC News (2021) he revealed that it's a "constant which has only intensified with fame." Despite Mills' difficult experiences with racism, it has only empowered him to become an outspoken advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Patty Mills is not only an incredible athlete and prominent figure within Australian Sport, he is also a spokes person that gives back to First Nations communities. As an incredibly successful basketball player, we hope Mills will continue to inspire future generations of Indigenous youth to peruse their passions and dreams.