This year the Spurs are celebrating their 50th season in San Antonio. There have been many highs and a few lows. One trademark of the San Antonio Spurs has been their culture and their consistency. The keys to those qualities lie in their players. Always noted for development as well as being ahead of the curve on scouting international players, the Spurs way has made the franchise one of the most successful of all time. As we look back on the Silver & Black, we recognize the top 50 players in Spurs history. Each day, we will move up the countdown.
There aren’t many role players who are able to capture the adoration of fan bases at a level comparable to superstars and be remembered for a long time after they’re gone. The Spurs have had a few of them over the years — Avery Johnson, Malik Rose, Danny Green and Boris Diaw immediately come to mind — but perhaps none have captured the hearts and imagination of Spurs fans quite like Patty Mills, a.k.a. the Tasmanian Devil.
From a small island in Australia to St. Mary’s University, and in and out of the NBA his first couple of seasons due to the 2011 lockout, the Spurs picked Mills up off the waivers late in the 2012 season to help deal with the condensed schedule and allow them to rest some players down the stretch. (Remember, this was just one year after Manu Ginobili suffered a broken elbow in what ended up being a meaningless regular season finale in 2011, which played a huge role in their first round upset loss to 8th seed Memphis Grizzlies, even though he only missed one game.)
It didn’t take long for Mills to show Spurs fans what he was all about, as the sharpshooter exploded for a combined 61 points in the final two games of the regular season to deliver the top-seeded Spurs a couple “bonus” wins in rest games. He would remain behind Gary Neal in the depth chart the next season, but after losing some weight, Mills finally broke into the regular rotation for the 2013-14 season and played an integral role on their championship team as part of the famed “Foreign Legion” bench unit. Perhaps his most memorable moment that season came when he hit three huge threes towards the end of the Spurs’ 39-15 run in Game 5 of the Finals, essentially putting the Miami Heat away for good and bringing the 2014 championship to San Antonio.
He had plenty more big moments in his next seven seasons with the Spurs, like hitting a memorable game-winner on the night of Ginobili’s jersey retirement ceremony — complete with a Manu-esque celebration — but Mills will also be remembered for more than just his contributions on the court. While he was a team leader and constant source of encouragement in the locker room, he was all that and more away from basketball. He was always involved in the community, an advocate for civil rights, and all-around nice, funny person any fan walk up to and hold a conversation with.
It’s still probably a few years down the line, but the debate is already on over whether his jersey will be retired in San Antonio. If I had to place a bet, I would say yes, but we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, Mills will likely continue to receive plenty of love whenever he visits the AT&T Center, even if it’s in an opposing uniform.
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