The newly crowned NBA champions have several Olympic ties. Manu Ginobili won a gold medal, Tim Duncan a bronze (Duncan’s sister swam in the 1988 Olympics), and Tony Parker made his long-awaited Olympic debut in 2012.
But how about backup point guard Patty Mills, who scored 17 points off the bench in the Spurs’ decisive Game 5 win over the Heat on Sunday.
The Australian played in his first Olympic game at age 19 in 2008. He came off the bench in all six Aussie games in Beijing and led the team in scoring (14.2 points per game).
In 2012, he led the entire Olympic tournament in scoring (21.2 points per game, nearly two points clear of Kevin Durant, Ginobili and Pau Gasol). The Aussies lost in the quarterfinals both times.
Mills’ passion for the Olympics dates even farther back to one of the iconic moments in Games history in 2000.
Mills’ mother is Aboriginal. Of course, the most famous Aboriginal athlete is Cathy Freeman, who lit the Olympic cauldron in Sydney and later won the 400m. Mills has called Freeman his idol and remembers — “like it’s last week” — watching Freeman’s one-lap victory one month after turning 12.
“That moment was — I get shivers just thinking about it,” Mills, who reportedly attended Sydney 2000 basketball games, told The New York Times. “I ran track, and my pet event was the 400 meters, and I wanted to be like Cathy Freeman. The whole country was on Cathy’s back during that race. Everyone was clued in during that race seeing her cross the line and how she handled herself, not only on the track, but before and after, because she had so much pressure.”
Freeman, too, follows Mills. The point guard’s Twitter account is one of 52 on her following list.