SAN ANTONIO – Thursday night I was at the AT&T Center where the San Antonio Spurs knocked off the shorthanded Chicago Bulls and then Matt Bonner hosted a Coolio concert. Early the next morning I was at the Westin Riverwalk to talk about sausage with Patty Mills. How’s that for an attention grabbing introduction, 8th grade English teacher?
Patty was at the hotel to host a breakfast event with Johnsonville Sausage. About 50 fans had entered a contest to eat patties with Patty, and before breakfast, I asked the Spurs point guard about this tough home stretch, his development as a player, Boban, and of course sausage. Some context here; Patty had just answered ten-plus questions about sausage, and the only non-sausage related question in there was, “Oh by the way, do you guys think you can beat Golden State?” He replied, “Johnsonville? I think Johnsonville could beat Golden State.”
Tom: Patty, Tom Petrini Project Spurs. You’re coming to a stretch in the season now where you’re gonna play-
Patty: Still un-serious questions?
Tom: Kinda serious, I’ll get to sausage talk later (laughter).
Patty: I’m just joshing mate.
Tom: You’re gonna play Steph (Stephen Curry), Damian Lillard, CP3 (Chris Paul), and Russell Westbrook in the course of about a week. What do you think the biggest challenge is going into a stretch like that, and are you looking forward to the opportunity?
Patty: Yeah, obviously I think it’s just a great opportunity for us to develop as a team so coming up against point guards like that, it’s a great challenge individually but of course it’s all about the team and how well our unit can play together to be able to overcome great teams and great players like that. It’s a great individual challenge, it’s a great team challenge, but over the course of these games it’s gonna be an exciting time for us to develop against quality teams who we’ll most likely see at some stage during the playoffs.
Tom: People have spoken glowingly about your teammate Kawhi Leonard’s development and rightfully so. You’ve developed a lot in the past couple of years too. How much do you think (you have changed), and in what ways have you changed most since the 2014 season?
Patty: Yeah, I guess you can compare me to Kawhi cause he hasn’t developed that much (laughter). He’s actually developed a lot but look just the environment I guess just allows you to learn and to grow in itself you know? The people around you, the coaches, the type of stuff you can work on specifically that relates to how we play as a team compared to just some willy-nilly stuff that doesn’t really make sense. You can lock in that way, but generally speaking the environment is the perfect environment to grow as a basketball player both on and off the court which I think is, I don’t know about too many places that enable you to do that.
Tom: Alright time for some sausage talk now. Who do you think would win a sausage eating contest, Boban or Boris?
Patty: OOOOOH GREAT question!
Tom: Or maybe some other dark horse.
Patty: Oh that is a great question. Umm, I would throw in our ex-teammate Aron Baynes in there as a top 3, but if it’s out of Boban and Boris… I wanna root for Boris cause I reckon he could but I think Boban just has him covered. Cause he can inhale those things probably. Too easy.
Tom: Alright, what flavor of Johnsonville sausage would you compare this Spurs team to and why?
Patty: Ooh um… Every one because it’s an all-around team, organization, and company, so I think you can throw em all on a plate and then you have the Spurs.
We went to breakfast after the media session, and as soon as Patty walked in the room he found the smallest kid there and said, “Enjoying your breakfast mate?” He and his girlfriend sat at a table with fans, and after breakfast he went to the podium to say a few words. After opening with an obligatory sausage on the barbie joke, Mills thanked Johnsonville for the opportunity to interact with the fans in a special way, and said that he really enjoyed turning the fan-player relationship into a person to person one. He talked about how much he loved the people and city of San Antonio, and then he opened it up to questions from the fans. One asked about life after basketball, and Patty said it would probably have something to do with his heritage as an indigenous Australian. Another asked if there was any pressure to keep up the home winning streak, and you could probably accurately guess the response to that.
Finally, the little guy that Patty singled out at the beginning raised his hand and asked, “How do you make it to the NBA?” Mills’ thoughtful and extensive response to the young fan really showed what a good, caring person he is. He touched on the value of dedication, practice, and hard work. He spoke about the importance of finding something you love and channeling motivation in all things, not just basketball. Patty ended by smiling at the kindergartener and saying, “Other than that, just keep shooting the ball mate.”
P.S. If you’re wondering what form of sausage he prefers: patties. Duh.