The Australian men’s basketball team, the Boomers, led by NBA star Patrick Sammy James Mills, secured a piece of history by winning the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games – the first time they had medalled in 12 appearances. Mills led the team from the front for the entire campaign both on and off the court.
Mills’ determination, skill and inspirational leadership made him a worthy winner of the 2021 The Don Award.
He was a widely respected member of the Australian Olympic squad which was evident when he was picked to carry the Australian flag at the Tokyo Olympic Games opening ceremony, as the first Indigenous member to do so.
After a fourth-place finish at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the Boomers were looking for redemption. In Tokyo, they began the group stage in style, defeating Nigeria 84 points to 67, with Mills top scoring with 25 and providing six assists. His form continued throughout the group matches with five assists in a tight match against Italy and a match-high 24 points and six assists in the final group match against Germany. The Boomers finished the group stage on top and drew with Argentina for the first knockout match.
Mills carried his outstanding form into the quarter-finals match against Argentina, netting 18 points in the Boomers’ convincing 38-point victory. This win saw the Australian team face the powerhouse team of basketball, the USA, who had finished lower in their group after a loss to France. After being defeated by the USA 97 points to 78, despite Mills top scoring with 15 points and eight assists, this put Australia into familiar territory of playing off for a bronze medal for the fifth time at an Olympics.
Mills was the standout performer in the historic bronze match, which saw the Boomers defeat Slovenia 107 points to 93. The Boomers captain did all that he could to ensure his team returned home with medals, scoring 42 points and providing nine assists. It was the second-highest points mark for an Australian at an Olympics, behind only Eddie Palubinskas (48) in 1976.
Mills carried his pride and honour of representing his nation and his people as a proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander through the Olympic campaign. That was embraced by the Boomers, who celebrated by way of honouring all Australians with the team carrying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag alongside the Australian flag, showing the unity of the team that Mills embodied.
He finished the Olympics with teammates stating that “this is the standard now” with Mills and the Boomers also honouring the past players who helped paved the way for them.
Mills finished second on total points with 140 from six games, averaging 23.3 points per game and was third with assists. He carried that form into the NBA season that followed for the star-studded Brooklyn Nets team, scoring 21 points in the first match. He was named in the FIBA All-Star Five as one of the Guards following his Olympic performance.