February 22, 2011
Blazers guard Patrick Mills is often described as the latest in a reasonably long line of Australian players in the NBA that includes Luc Longley, Andrew Bogut(notes) and Andrew Gaze. It's a new, growing hotbed for hoops products, and Mills is helping to raise the sport's profile in the country. Pretty soon the NBA will see its first kangaroo, or maybe even a really big chazwazer.
The reality of Mills' heritage is much more complicated, though. As noted in an excellent profile by Matt Calkins in The Columbian, the story of Mills' mother is tied to one of the most terrible moments in the history of Australia:
"Unless someone asks me, it's not a subject I talk about much," Mills said.
The subject pertains to his Indigenous Australian heritage, more specifically his Aboriginal mother, Yvonne, who as a 2-year-old was taken from her mother along with her older brother and three older sisters. The abduction was part of a national effort led by the Australian government and church missions to remove Indigenous Australian children from their homes and assimilate them into white culture.
It is now classified as "The Stolen Generation," and Yvonne was a textbook victim.
"That's the chip I carry on my shoulder," Mills continued. "Not just being an Indigenous Australian, but knowing that my mom's side of my family never got to see me play."
It's a terrific piece by Calkins, so please click on the link above to read the whole thing. You can also read more about the Stolen Generations here.
Too often, America fans assume that players from the same foreign country have similar backgrounds and a strong bond. But as Mills shows here -- and, more humorously, as Slovenians Sasha Vujacic(notes) and Goran Dragic(notes) demonstrate with their ongoing feud -- the history of these nations is just as complicated as that of the United States. There are civil wars -- as noted in the ESPN documentary "Once Brothers" about Serb Vlade Divac and Croat Drazen Petrovic -- and all manner of complicated domestic issues at play.
Mills can still act as a representative of Australian basketball -- in fact, his playing that role speaks to positive developments in the country. But Mills can also teach basketball fans around the world about the history of his country, which deserves to be known by as many people as possible. Ultimately, he'll not only make the case for Australian basketball, but prove that the nation's history isn't so different from our own.